It reads like utopian fiction: a modern city with global roots, nestled between snow-capped mountains and lapping oceanic waves. On approach, its signature slate sky is at once absorbed and reflected back by towering glass edifices, symbolic testaments to the city’s status as a place of reflection, a sanctuary in which a deep reverence for the nature that surrounds it is at all times mirrored by its local culture.
Compact but deceptively profound, Vancouver is the jewel box of the West Coast, containing an untold wealth of storied heirlooms and hidden gems. How can a business possibly capture this identity, one that is made even more ethereal by its rapid evolution from youthful oasis to worldly urban centre?
Verre has approached the challenge head on, renovating and redesigning a Coal Harbour space to emulate the aesthetic of what homegrown artist and novelist Douglas Coupland once called our City of Glass.
Verre, the French word for glass, is a microcosm of iconic Vancouver design, heavy on minimalist – transparent and reflective materials grounded and warmed through by earth-toned leather accents and splashes of copper and bronze. At the same time, a conversation-fostering, horseshoe-shaped marble bar and black-and-white tiled flooring offer a fond nod to the European influence that most informs the menu: France.
The 75-seat, 3,300-square-foot space, a corner room at the northernmost foot of Denman, was once home to the second incarnation of the famed Crime Lab.
At the fore of the restaurant’s dramatic redesign, which culminated in time for a December 2018 opening, was Vancouver-based firm Fusion Projects, a group that also counts among its clients Sony Pictures ImageWorks, Hootsuite, Cadillac Fairview and commercial real estate giant Colliers International.
Verre executive chef and co-owner Liam Breen, a Vancouverite fresh off an extended international culinary sojourn that had him working with industry luminaries like Marco Pierre White, explains that in addition to its affectionate tip of the hat to Vancouver’s City of Glass moniker, his new restaurant’s design supports the jewel box metaphor as well, serving as an elegantly appointed showcase for local treasures and global traditions.
Chef Breen’s menu trades on a similarly dichotomous currency, interpreting local raw goods within the language of classic French technique. A launch menu offering of Scallop Crudo was presented in comforting autumnal tones; a Spanish paprika-infused olive oil with a piquant polyphenol kick provided the colourful foundation for impossibly succulent rounds of raw scallop lifted by a zucchini and basil puree.
Another inaugural dish featured slow-braised Sakura Pork Saddle, a criminally overlooked cut with unmatched depth of flavour, served here with a dollop of velvety celeriac and pear emulsion, earthy, crispy kale, and fragrant juniper jus.
Seated at the bar next to the glass-ensconced wine cellar that is home to some 300 selections of principally European provenance, and protected from the relentless winter rain, it was hard to imagine willing myself back outside once I had drained my cocktail, a bourbon-forward drink with marasca cherry liqueur and chocolatey xocolatl mole bitters. However, just beyond Verre’s front windows lies a 25-seat, Seawall-facing heated patio that I am certain will be prime dining real estate for Coal Harbour in the sunnier months ahead.
I was interested to learn from Chef Breen that he had helmed a kitchen at the 5-star luxury Conrad Hotel in Dubai. I can see the influence of this high-end experience in the immaculate plating of his dishes, but also, thankfully, a grounded approachability from his classic training and local roots.
I believe this sort of duality is a key to success in our still-nascent dining market. Visiting the room on a darkening evening, confronted by glowing table-top candles illuminating expansive marina-facing windows, I got the sense that this space has finally found its true expression.