Food outshines the decor at the new Roof restaurant at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

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      Back in the day, the Panorama Roof at the Hotel Vancouver was the place to be. A dine-and-dance show club where Dal Richards got his start, it was fancy-schmancy.

      The joint shut down many years ago and was converted to a multipurpose room used for private events. Now known as the Roof Restaurant and Bar, it recently reopened for a limited run. If you go expecting its former grandeur, however, you’ll be disappointed. Fortunately, the food more than makes up for that.

      The Roof is expected to be in operation for about eight months, at which point the hotel’s lobby restaurant and lounge will open after a multimillion-dollar renovation. This new 15th-floor room didn’t get much of a face-lift, though.

      The space is especially drab before dark, when dim lighting helps obscure the bland surroundings. The colour scheme is beige and brown, and the ceiling is all white panels, like any corporate office. The few big plants that separate diners only hinder views of tall buildings. Terrific jazz musicians play Thursday through Saturday nights, and there’s even a grand piano, but the rest of the time it’s elevator music. (Think a soap star singing U2’s “Stay”.) Arriving at dusk, we also noticed that the carpet around our table was filthy: crumbs, wood chips from a plant pot, even a button off someone’s clothing. Clearly no vacuuming had taken place following breakfast, lunch, and afternoon-tea service, which are all offered daily.

      Strange, too, is the seating. Tables are pulled away from the windows rather than placed right next to them. Views are better in the bar, where you can get a peek at English Bay. This side of the floor feels more luxurious than the dining room, in fact, with its marble bar and big, comfortable chairs. You can order the same items as you can in the dining room, plus you have the option of the less expensive bar menu.

      Although the Roof isn’t what it once was, the décor is no reason to stay away. Created by executive chef Cameron Ballendine, the food is fabulous.

      Many items are throwbacks to times past (look at the size of those onion rings!), but Ballendine puts his own spin on them. Take the wedge salad: there’s farmhouse blue cheese and a blue-cheese ranch dressing, but also preserved tomatoes, Boston lettuce (not the usual iceberg), and lomo ham, a meaty variety punched up with garlic and paprika. Kale and arugula might be the darlings of the leafy-greens world, but you can’t deny the satisfaction this starter provides. (There are also Caesar, spinach, and mixed-green salads on offer.)

      Some starters are especially indulgent. French onion soup comes crowned with a twice-baked croissant and Gruyère. Elsewhere, tender morel mushrooms are coupled with Brie, deep-fried, and served with a thick truffle-and-quince jam.

      Main dishes, which run $29 to $54 at dinner, are served with your choice of two sides—including foraged mushrooms, wilted spinach with garlic, quinoa sautéed with kale and corn, and steamed white and green asparagus—all of them delicious.

      Steakhouse fans will appreciate having several cuts of certified Angus beef to choose from. An eight-ounce tenderloin was so thick that it first came far more rare than medium-rare, but on second go it proved buttery in texture and dramatic in flavour. Like other mains, it’s accompanied by four sauces: chimichurri, tarragon butter, béchamel, and a peppercorn gravy so tasty you could order it as a bowl of soup.

      Haida Gwaii halibut has golden grill marks and is ever so slightly crispy on the outside, perfectly flaky inside, and topped with a big handful of watercress and pea shoots. Sprinkled with fresh pepper, it’s a beautiful filet that needs nothing, certainly none of those aforementioned sauces.

      The menu has a section called “To Share”—items to go with mains or to have as a precursor. One is especially spectacular: candylike golden beets, baby turnips, and Brussels sprouts roasted in truffle oil and honey and served in a cast-iron dish. For a real sweet treat afterward, have the crumble, which is made with preserved Okanagan Bing cherries and served with a super-duper sour-cherry sauce and sour-cream ice cream.

      Cocktails are well crafted and fun. The Clover Club, a turn-of-the-century staple, is pretty in pink with Bombay Sapphire (disregard the menu’s incorrect spelling), fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, fresh raspberries, and egg white. The Roof Negroni is potent enough to please Don Draper. You can even get a Grand Sazerac, using Louis XIII de Rémy Martin Grande Champagne Cognac, for $475. Now that’s lavish.