By William Johnson
The day after being awarded a Michelin star, the team at Barbara Restaurant had almost no time to celebrate. For the first time ever, they were 100 per cent booked for their Friday service. There was serious work to be done. And even after they navigated that evening, there would be no prospect of resting anytime soon.
According to GM and beverage director Brayden Newberry, within 10 minutes of the previous evening’s announcement, the 14-seater was fully booked—not just for the following night, but the next six weeks, as far ahead as the restaurant accepts reservations.
“We were like, ‘Let's just put our heads down, get into this.’ Then, you know, see what's changed next week, then we can go from there,” Newberry recalls. But the high demand to dine at the 550-square-foot eatery continues unabated.
“Every single day the reservations get released, and they fill up within 10 minutes, and [we’re] constantly getting emails about people asking how they can book, looking into the new year as well,” Newberry said. Barbara’s two seatings a night are packed, and staff have decided to take virtually no walk-ins until at least next year.
Barbara is one of eight local restaurants—including AnnaLena, Burdock & Co, iDen & QuanJuDe Beijing Duck House, and St. Lawrence—recently awarded a Michelin star. Canadian Michelin-starred restaurants have only existed since September when 13 Toronto spots were given the honour. The Michelin Guide Vancouver was announced on July 14, and the official honorees were named last month.
The distinctions come at a time when establishments are still recovering from a perilous two years in the hospitality industry, which saw thousands of BC’s full- and limited-service eating places temporarily shut down or outright close. But as is the case with Barbara, Michelin’s impact is already being felt in dining rooms throughout the city.
Even before last month’s live Michelin event was finished, Japanese sushi restaurant Masayoshi, which also received one star, started to see an uptick in bookings. “We got a lot of reservations… even before they revealed that we got a Michelin star,” said manager Yu Kajiwara. (Could it have been the fact that CBC prematurely published the list?) “We got fully booked to the end of the year. That's a big change.”
The effect of a star on a nationally-known restaurant like Published on Main is not as pronounced. It did not thrust the three-year-old eatery into a new era of impossible-to-get-reservations. Published had already entered that chapter of its story after landing the No. 1 spot on Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants list this past May.
So what excites co-owner Cody Allmin about its star—and the Vancouver Michelin guide overall—is how it may attract culinary talent and increase gastronomic tourism in the city. Since accepting its star, Published has received bookings from food writers from as far afield as Australia and Chicago, “which hopefully will in turn inspire travelers as well,” Allmin says. “What we're hoping for is that when people are traveling, they're like, ‘Why don't we go to Vancouver, I really want to check out that place Published.’”
Another freshly starred—yet sufficiently well-known restaurant—is Chinatown’s Kissa Tanto, which a 2018 New York Times review called “lovely” and “luxurious.” Michelin recognized it for its “ambitious kitchen” and “mingling of Japanese and Italian cuisine,” and awarded GM Justin Isidro and his team the 2022 Vancouver Service Award.
Isidro says that, like Published, Kissa Tanto is starting to see an increase in emails from foreign tourists. “It was interesting to see that kind of happened right away. I thought it might be something more progressive,” he tells the Straight. “But there’s a lot more curiosity, I think.”
With an increase in attention comes more demanding clientele. Published’s Allmin said his team had no intention of adjusting their program according “to the accolades we get,” but he did admit patrons are coming in with higher expectations.
“With some of the negative reviews that we've gotten, the thought process behind that review isn't, ‘This was a great dinner,’ it's ‘this wasn't the best,’” Allmin explains. “So it's a one-star [review]. That's really the only frustration, but we're not feeling any pressure. We know what our team is capable of. We were doing it before the awards.”
To maintain its standards and keep guests happy, Barbara’s tiny team is working overtime. Newberry admits the hours have been longer, which the team is still adjusting to.
“But I think I can say for all of us,” she adds, “the energy from the guests that we've been having since winning the star has just been so uplifting, and so motivating. Everyone's really excited … and I'm glad that we're finally getting the recognition that we deserve—and we're going to keep getting better.”