Vancouver proper has no shortage of first-rate seafood restaurants. The other end of the Lions Gate Bridge? Not so much.
Enter Fishworks, a newish spot about a block up from Lonsdale Quay. Not only does this stylish restaurant offer consistently appetizing food from the sea, it has also caught on to the sensible culinary concepts of local fare and sustainable practices.
With its high-quality, comfortable atmosphere and solid value—you won’t find $40 mains here—it’s no wonder the place is positively swimming in business.
A recent Friday-night visit showed that reservations are a must, at least on weekends: we needed to be out of there early anyway, but had we not shown up at 5:30 we likely wouldn’t have gotten a table at all. Although Fishworks was booked solid from about 7 p.m. on, our server never made us feel rushed, even with three courses.
Chef and owner Shallaw Kadir opened the restaurant six months ago after moving on from Edgemont Village’s Edge Bistro. The Lower Lonsdale resident explains in a phone interview that he was out walking his dog when he saw the spot’s For Lease sign. It didn’t take long for him to come up with the idea of focusing on simple, fresh seafood, given the area’s confounding lack of such eateries.
The 29-year-old—who got his start in the restaurant industry in high school, working as a dishwasher at night and learning cooking skills and techniques on his own time during the day—designed Fishworks’ modern but warm interior, which features sepia-toned images of North Vancouver’s waterfront, chocolate-brown leather chairs and accents, and hardwood floors a few shades darker than the sleek wooden tables.
Chic in its simplicity, the room’s aesthetic reflects the menu: the food is elegant yet straightforward, and altogether outstanding. Moreover, almost every item is Ocean Wise. (Kadir says that, when he introduces his new menu at the end of the month, all of the seafood dishes will bear the Vancouver Aquarium sustainability program’s logo. Seeing the recent documentary Oceans, Kadir says, only firmed up his resolve to be as environmentally responsible as possible.)
We considered not bothering with the caesar salad ($6), but our server sold us with her effusive praise of Kadir’s take on the classic dish. I lost count of how many whole roasted garlic cloves bounced around on the crisp romaine leaves along with hefty croutons made from the robust whole-grain bread baked in-house.
The Manila clam chowder ($6) will win over anyone who claims they don’t favour the coastal staple. A reasonable facsimile of B.C. Ferries’ version this is not. Forget sludgy consistency and oversize chunks of bland potatoes: here is a bowl of smooth, savoury, slightly peppery goodness with perfectly tender clams inside steamed-open shells.
The Dungeness crab cake, too, rises above the blah standard. Thick, flaky, and infused with smoked red pepper, the appetizer ($12), which is served with basil aioli, bursts with flavour.
So many of the main dishes at Fishworks are irresistible bait for seafoodies. The arctic char ($23) is one of those memorable dishes that have you recalling the flavour over and over again days later. The pretty-in-pink braised rhubarb is a tongue tickler that, coupled with a citrus emulsion, enhances the fish’s delicate character.
The bolder Queen Charlotte sablefish ($25) has the buttery lusciousness you expect from the pearly white flesh. It’s marinated in sake kasu, the lees that remain after the pressing and filtering processes of sake-making. They give the velvety meat a unique sweetness.
Other choices include black linguine with B.C. spot prawns and spicy salami ($18), whole ruby trout en papillotte ($21), and Qualicum Beach scallop risotto ($24). Then, curiously, there are two spaghetti dishes. Why? “Anytime I made spaghetti, people always said it was the best spaghetti they ever had,” Kadir says. “Plus kids love spaghetti. You’ve got to have something for the kids too.”
All of the entrées are served with baby root vegetables and pommes purées, which is merely a fancy way of saying “mashed potatoes”. But every day Kadir injects them with a different flavour, such as curry, roasted red pepper, fennel, or dill. He takes the same fresh approach to his house-made butters, which are flavoured with porcini mushrooms and thyme, almond and sage, or Kalamata olives.
To keep his simple-but-succulent theme going straight through to the end, Kadir hired French native Stéphane Enée as pastry chef. His desserts (such as the crème brûlée with its skating-rink–like top) look straight out of the pages of Bon Appétit and taste as extraordinaire.
The unpretentious and well-planned wine list is reasonably priced. Dinner for two with a cocktail and a bottle of wine came to $130 before taxes and tip.
Finally, those living on the North Shore have a seafood restaurant worth bragging about, one that those on the other side of the inlet will want to hop on the SeaBus for.