Perch Restaurant rules the culinary roost at UBC

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      University campuses aren’t typically associated with upscale cuisine, but UBC is changing that with its new Perch Restaurant. It’s the perfect place for 20-somethings saddled with student debt and sick of noodles and sandwiches to have their parents take them out for dinner—or for local food lovers to have a high-quality meal without high-end prices.

      If you’re making the trek to the sprawling campus, take my advice and leave yourself some extra time to find the place (and get a parking spot if you’re driving). The restaurant is on the top floor of the new Alma Mater Society (AMS) Student Nest building (simply known as “the Nest”)—but the 250,000-square-foot building itself isn’t clearly marked, nor is there any signage pointing you to the restaurant. Look for the oddly shaped edifice by the Aquatic Centre. When you enter the Nest, you’ll see an open-concept gathering space and eateries offering everything from sushi to bánh mì to pizza. On a recent Friday night, a DJ was spinning discs in the bright, airy space. Perch is adjacent to a student lounge with oversized red beanbag chairs and people curled up with their laptops.

      The restaurant itself feels cavernous; with a mostly grey colour palette, it needs more tables or the addition of something like lush plants to make it seem less empty. Press material makes much of the views of the North Shore mountains, but in fact this vista is largely wasted. You get a glimpse of it from the patio and from a couple of spots in Perch’s TV-outfitted lounge; there are no tables next to the north-facing windows, that area seemingly used to store extra chairs.

      Like the other Nest food outlets, Perch is owned and operated by the AMS, with revenues going toward AMS programs and services, such as its food bank, advocacy office, sexual-assault support centre, Safewalk, and many others. So right there you’ve got a feel-good reason to support the place.

      Need others? The kitchen team pulls products from its own rooftop garden and sources other seasonal items from UBC’s organic farm. Fish and seafood are Ocean Wise–certified and traceable via the ThisFish program. The coffee is organic, shade-grown, and fair-trade.

      Then there’s the food. You’re in good hands with Gus Stieffenhofer-Brandson, formerly of the Pear Tree, who has trained in some of Germany’s Michelin-starred restaurants. He’s not reinventing the wheel here, but Perch isn’t trying to be something it’s not. What it is, is excellent food for excellent value.

      Chef de cuisine Gus Stieffenhofer-Brandson.
      Kuna Photography

      Consider that the most expensive item on the current menu costs $24—a succulent grilled flank steak with bone-marrow croquette and charred onion—and you’ve got a price point that beats out leading chain restaurants with top-quality ingredients. If you were to situate this restaurant in Coal Harbour and Stieffenhofer-Brandson were as high-profile as media-savvy chefs like the Four Seasons’ Ned Bell, you’d be paying much, much more.

      Grilled flank steak with bone-marrow croquette and charred onion.

      Other standouts among the main dishes (which start at $13) are Pacific cod draped with wilted spinach, and perfectly pan-roasted steelhead trout perched atop potato confit. Seared rare albacore tuna is served cold with a German potato salad, the vinaigrette dressing a refreshing alternative to the creamy stuff of summer picnics.

      Also served chilled is a playful Waldorf salad–inspired scallop dish with celery, apples, walnuts, raisins, and watercress. Breathtakingly beautiful is the pickled-beet salad, the golden and deep-red bulbs flirting with whipped goat cheese; a brassica salad offers crunchy surprises, with broccoli and kale chips tossed in with the crisp, raw leaves in a classic caesar dressing. The kid-friendly crispy fried chicken consists of two slabs of white meat that resemble fish sticks and come with honey dill and pickled-garlic-scape ranch sauces. And those thick wild-rice rösti fries with harissa mayo make for an addictive little dish. Chances are you’ll order more than one.

      The well-curated wine and beer lists focus almost exclusively on B.C. products. Most of the wait staff are UBC students, and the service is great. The only time you may find yourself waiting is if your server is stuck at a table of 12 that’s asked for separate bills, which probably happens a lot in a place frequented by cash-strapped students. It’s a small price to pay for an overall pleasing experience that won’t leave you frowning when your credit-card bill shows up.

      Plus, walking through the Nest will give you a glimpse of student life today. If you went to UBC back in the day, you’ll wish you could have had your parents treat you to a wholesome meal at a nice place like this.

      Follow Gail Johnson on Twitter @gailjohnsonwork.