Local chef Trevor Bird may have lost the most recent edition of Top Chef Canada, but he’s clearly a winner in the eyes of Vancouver diners. A week after the grand opening of his new restaurant, Fable, the place was abuzz by 7 p.m. Even Bird himself seemed excited.
As he watched the hostess seat group after group right when the doors opened at 5:30 p.m., he exclaimed to some of his staffers, “Wow.” It was an endearing comment coming from a chef; anyone who’s ever spent time waiting tables or sweating over a grill knows that those who head kitchens are usually better known for their megalomania than their manners.
That night, the chef who beat him for top spot, Toronto’s Carl Heinrich, happened to be visiting town. Bird clanked a fork against a glass of champagne he was holding to get all of the diners’ attention. He graciously introduced Heinrich, congratulated him on his win, and toasted him before thanking everyone in the room for coming to his new spot.
The kitchen faces onto the restaurant’s big front window, so from the street you can see the chefs working away, including Top Chef’s “mad scientist” Curtis Luk, who’s onboard as chef de cuisine. (Ron MacGillivary, ex Kingston Pub general manager, is front of house partner, and Kathy Schleyer, formerly of Goldfish, is also involved.) The back half of the kitchen is as narrow as a submarine, and it’s fascinating to watch so many people pulling off plated works of art without bumping into each other.
Inside, Fable is a warm, cozy place, with simple and rustic décor that features a lot of dark browns, from the leather banquettes to the exposed brick walls to the wooden beams (reclaimed from the Cecil Hotel) that are branded with the restaurant’s name. Then there are the tabletops, which Bird took a blowtorch to in order to create a cool, charred effect. Mason jars show up as candle holders for tea lights, holders for hanging light bulbs, and as serving dishes. The back wall is local artist Kyla Brown’s multimedia display of light boxes, poetry, chalk art, and even some wrangler’s rope.
Fable’s motto is From Farm to Table, and to that end Bird will be changing his menu regularly to keep his focus on seasonal, local ingredients.
One of those aforementioned little Mason jars holds what the menu describes as “the best canned tuna”, and this reference to one of the Top Chef episodes is obviously better than anything you’ll get in a grocery store. Fresh, soft albacore tuna is mixed with lemon confit, baby potatoes, and olive oil. Next to the jar is a tiny spoon with rock salt in it, allowing you to season as you wish; you’re encouraged to mush it all up then smear it onto the accompanying crusty bread. It’s a soothing starter.
Chickpea fritters are a standout first course, five dumplings topped with pickled red onion, pea shoots, and a kicking curry mayo.
Stunning describes the look of the Raw and Crispy Spot Prawns. With each crustacean cut in half, Bird serves three full prawns, eyeballs and all. But even with the fennel and lemon emulsion, this appetizer underwhelmed.
Of the eight mains, it was easy for me to steer clear of Ugly Jersey’s Liver and Onions. You either love or hate liver and onions. I’m a firm hater.
Our earnest waiter tempted us with his description of the flat iron steak, which comes with potato fondant and a supposedly crazily tasty black-pepper jam. But he sold us on the Sockeye salmon and the halibut and chorizo.
The salmon is slow-cooked, a technique that makes the fish unbelievably tender and flavourful. Served atop a purée of kale, leeks, and spinach that’s the deeply beautiful green of a rainforest, this camera-ready dish comes with five nicely firm housemade gnocchi.
An ultrathin slice of Bird’s own fiery chorizo sausage tops the generous halibut filet that comes in a mussel chowder. We just wish there’d been more of that savoury soup, replete with fennel and tomatoes.
Vegetarians have two mains to pick from: pesto gnocchi, or eggplant Parmesan served with a “Bolognese” sauce made of mushrooms and ladled over tagliatelle.
Fable is one place where desserts are well worth saving room for. There’s a distinctly lovely taste of sage in the long piece of flourless chocolate cake, which has layers of white-chocolate ganache. The pretty pink polka dots made of beet mousse make this look like something Martha Stewart would feature in her magazine.
A snappy lemon granita and luscious gin foam top the lemon pot de crème—get it.
Main range from $16 to $28, while desserts and first courses run from $8 to $12. Dinner for two with a few glasses of wine, appetizers, mains, and dessert cost $129 before tax and tip.
As we made our way out of the bustling room, Bird made a point of making eye contact, waving, and thanking us for coming. Earlier the waiter had noted he’d never worked with a chef who wanted to interact with guests as much as his team.
You might not have earned the title of Canada’s Top Chef, Mr. Bird, but you’re a star here on the West Coast.