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Heirloom brings ‘upscale casual’ approach to Ambleside

Vegetarian restaurant steps from the beach in West Vancouver

On behalf of The Dish weekly restaurant review column, I would like to extend a big welcome to Heirloom Vegetarian Restaurant, the newest addition to Ambleside’s dining scene and an exciting, original operation on so many levels.

I hauled my family in for brunch on a recent Sunday and delighted from moment one. The space is wide open and bright, the giant windows everywhere flooding the contemporary, high-ceilinged restaurant with sunshine. White tiles, wood, glass, pale blue accents and sparse but colourful wall art give the space a fresh, clean esthetic, but without tipping over into austerity. Seating is ample, with additional tables about to be ready on the nearly-complete west-facing balcony.

Patrons order at the counter as part of what was described to us by our server as Heirloom’s “upscale casual” approach to vegetarian dining. Those familiar with Heirloom’s original, much-lauded West 12th Avenue location, will find a more laid-back, slightly less formal iteration of the concept at Ambleside. That said, the West Van kitchen still doles out carefully plated, creative, and flavour-forward fare that is clearly in the same family as its Kitsilano progenitor.

In its initial month of operation the Ambleside restaurant closed at 4 p.m. with an exclusive focus on breakfast, brunch and lunch, but now serves dinner from 3 p.m. onwards. At the time of filing this review, the restaurant still does not have its menu posted online, nor does it have a dedicated section of the general Heirloom website to appeal to for more information. What I can tell you, based on visits to the original venue and my one brunch experience here, is that the menu is seasonally-driven vegetarian fare that draws on many influences. Dishes are invariably accessible, which is to say, creative and sometimes complex, but without being unduly academic or pushing diners to wrap their heads around esoteric flavour combinations and ingredients. Vegan grana padano for the Caesar salad, for instance, or gluten-free buckwheat pancakes, stand on their own merit as tasty in themselves and cannot be picked apart as concessions, or pale imitations of the “real thing.” As someone whose work comes with the expectation of eating everything, I would say that Heirloom does a particularly good job of making tasty food first and foremost, vegetarian food second. In other words, irrespective of your conventional eating tendencies, you are highly likely to find something to like at this place.

My kids certainly did. The matte green-hued buckwheat matcha pancakes topped with chocolate gelato, fruit and maple syrup was quick to disappear, though the generous garnish of baby cilantro tendrils did, legitimately I feel, raise some young eyebrows; I’m not sure the signature soapy-floral of cilantro (which I love in savoury dishes) was well calculated here. The pancakes themselves were light and springy, with subdued notes of the green tea, and married well with the eminently chocolatey gelato, which as it melted provided a unique syrup for the stack.

French toast was similarly popular, and fairly straightforward. Made with slices of dense and chewy, outstanding Bad Dog Bread, the two large pieces of toast were topped with fresh nectarine, a drizzle of cashew cream and toasted nuts.

DJ and I shared a very traditional brunch staple of eggs benedict, only vegetarian, and both loved the crispy, browned potato component of the dish almost as much as the benny itself, which was comprised of English muffin topped with two soft poached eggs, a light and lemony vegan hollandaise, and a bright and colourful side salad in simple vinaigrette.

Sadly, slightly less successful was an order of avocado toast, also shared by DJ and I. More of the consistently excellent Bad Dog bread was used here as the base for an exceedingly fresh, coarse mash of avocado, topped with chickpeas and pea tendrils, with a colourful garnish of pomegranate seeds and dehydrated raspberries. If this all sounds really good, your instincts are correct, however, not apparent until we tucked into the dish was that the bread had been singed by a kitchen torch rather than toasted, imparting an unfortunate mixed flavour of burnt bread and fuel. DJ suspected the kitchen torched the bread to avoid drying it out, the latter a not uncommon and irksome characteristic of avocado toast resulting in the topping sliding off and untold damage to the delicate flesh of the palate, but this work-around, if indeed that’s what it was, proved the greater of the two potential evils.

Delicious, freshly squeezed orange juice and espresso rounded out our brunch, which was just over $80 for the five of us.

I look forward to heading back to Heirloom to try their new dinner service and encourage readers looking for a thoughtful, well-executed and creative alternative to the norm to check this place out.

Heirloom Vegetarian Restaurant, 1390 Marine Dr., West Vancouver. 604-281-2241.