The typical English pub doesn’t exist—and most attempts to re-create one in and around Vancouver fall into pastiche. Thankfully, the Fat Badger, which opened quietly last month, is not the place for horse brasses and mock-Tudor décor. Instead, it’s an unpretentious London-style gastropub that strikes a balance between the traditional and the contemporary in both its feel and fare.
The Fat Badger is on the main floor of one of the West End’s sadly rare 100-year-old houses (formerly the home of Le Gavroche), with a small patio overlooking Alberni Street. The interior is a soft olive-green colour, with high and low wooden tables—a bit dark on a summer’s day, but a great place to gather otherwise. There are no TVs or screens to distract, and the music being played the day my friend and I visited was classic English rock from the ’70s and ’80s that was loud enough to hear without getting in the way of conversation.
Executive chef Neil Taylor, who owns the Fat Badger (and the West End’s popular España) with Edward Perrow and Georgia Goritsas, comes from Berkshire, a rural county west of London. Taylor brings creative flair to a menu that draws on English country cuisine such as black pudding and bubble and squeak.
The two of us shared all the food we ordered to accompany the delicious beers, beginning with one of the bar snacks, a delicious rabbit terrine served with toast points and little gherkins. For an appetizer, the mini Yorkshire puddings with roast beef and horseradish were a great choice; the three puds were equally crisp and soft, just as they should be, the beef medium-rare, and the horseradish sinus-clearingly sharp.
An order of fish and chips, England’s national dish, seemed mandatory. The Fat Badger’s two pieces of lightly battered Pacific cod were served with two ramekins, one containing tartar sauce, the other mushy peas—a British tradition that baffles many non-Brits, but when you think of the green mush as a veggie dip it almost starts to make sense. The cod was cooked to perfection, though the portions were a tad undersize.
The ales at the Fat Badger—both bottled and on tap, served in full 20-ounce imperial pints or half-pints—all hail from England, Scotland, and Ireland. These include three beers on tap from the prizewinning Fuller’s brewery in Chiswick, west London. Fuller’s London Pride is a tasty pale ale that pairs well with most dishes, and Fuller’s IPA is more strongly hopped than most English India pale ales, which suits the West Coast palate. Fuller’s London Porter gives an extra dimension to strongly flavoured items on the menu, such as the chicken-and-mushroom pie. Also from England come Courage’s Directors Bitter, Newcastle Brown Ale, and Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, in bottles or cans.
The beer choices for Scots are more limited, but still inspired. Innis & Gunn’s Original oak-aged ale is a topnotch draft brew, a beautiful balance of malts and hops, with notes of whisky from the barrel and, though it’s not a sweet beer, a lightly honeyed aftertaste. And for a bottled ale to release the inner Viking lurking within everyone with Highland blood, there’s Skull Splitter, the formidably potent wee-heavy Scottish ale from Orkney Brewery.
The draft brews from Ireland are all familiar: Guinness stout, the Irish red ales Smithwick’s and Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale, Harp lager, and Magners Irish cider. For beer cocktails, the Fat Badger likes to mix things up a bit, serving hybrids such as Crown Float (Guinness and cider), Black and Tan (Guinness and pale ale), and Black Velvet (Guinness and sparkling wine), as well as sweeter combinations like lager with lime juice or cider.
William’s Sir Perry Pear Cider from England is also on tap, a light and refreshingly different thirst-slaker that would pair well—excuse the pun—with dessert. We shared the rhubarb and ginger fool with oatmeal crumble topping, a sweet made with cloves that’s perhaps a bit spicy for most tastes but is smooth, fruity, tart, and surprisingly deep in flavour.
The tally for snack, starter, main dish, dessert, and five half-pints came to just over $70 with tax, good value for the quality of the fare. (Starters run $10 to $13 and mains $16 to $22.) The service was friendly, and the Fat Badger has an easygoing ambiance. The closeness of the small tables and the communal seating and welcoming bar add to the feeling that you’re in an English pub rather than just a restaurant with a good beer list.
As Brits know well, brock—the old, affectionate name for the badger—is a strong and determined animal, and the Fat Badger looks set to burrow its way comfortably into the West End community.