Monday, February 1, 2010

The Irish Heather - my first gastro-pub experience

And now for something completely different!

Among the various unusual restaurants you can experience in Vancouver, one that’s gaining a good deal of attention is the “gastro-pub,” a rather fancy name for, well, a pub you can eat at. Unlike places like Wings and other sports bar/restaurants, however, the food and atmosphere at gastro-pubs is much higher class, with rarefied ingredients and high quality cuisine. I’ve never really been to one before – “too rich for my blood,” as I told my friends! – but a recent meetup with the maintainer of Follow Me Foodie has opened my eyes to a whole new way of dining that doesn’t break the bank. Thanks Mijune! ;-)

The Irish Heather was a great first experience: steeped with a certain mystique and sophistication while still offering hearty, delicious food that anyone with tastebuds can appreciate.

About the restaurant: The Irish Heather actually comprises of three linked but distinct establishments:
-                    The Irish Heather is built in the style of a traditional Irish pub, right down to the oak finish… the hardwood floor is from the Guiness brewery in Dublin! This is the area most strongly identified as “gastro-pub” where the emphasis is equally on good drinks and authentic from-scratch meals.
-                    The Shabeen is a whiskey parlour in a separate building, accessed via a small courtyard out the back door. In contrast to the Irish Heather, this is a slightly smaller establishment with much greater focus on the drinks.
-                    The Salty Tongue actually doubles as a café as well as the main “dining room” of the Irish Heather. Boasting a more modern look than its counterparts, its main focus is a 40-ft long communal table made of solid reclaimed wood. During breakfast and lunch, an assortment of muffins and sandwiches are available here. During the evening, diners (especially those with children) can sit here and enjoy their meals. Also hosts the long table events.

All three locations have friendly wait staff and a pleasant atmosphere.

The food:  My visit to the Irish Heather was unusual in that I did not order from the menu; rather, our group took part in the Long Table series, a set menu event hosted during the month of January and ending, unfortunately, before the Olympics begin. Having said that, I’m sure their main menu is as high quality as the meal I enjoyed.

Our meal was smoked pork chop with bacon braised cabbage, crisp potatoes and apple-raisin gastrique, along with a glass of apple cider. The pork chop was one of the sweetest, most tender cuts I’d ever tasted, with a texture and taste close to cured ham or bacon. The cabbage shared the same taste thanks to the liberal use of bacon chunks, and it made a wonderful moist bed for the pork chop. The crisp potatoes were actually close to fries or potato chips in crispness and provided a crunchy counterpoint to the otherwise soft textures, and the apple-raisin dressing gave a strong, sweet kick when mixed with the cabbage or chop. All ingredients were fresh and smooth-tasting, and blended perfectly together. It was one of the best pork chops I’ve ever tasted!

In contrast, dessert – a Boston Cream pie – was somewhat underwhelming; while it wasn’t bad, it was not particularly memorable, and the chocolate was a little undersweet. The cider, which was produced in the Okanagan, was very strong, and a bit too alcoholic for my tastes.

My favourites:  Have only been once, but the aforementioned pork certainly qualifies!

Cost:  For the Long Table Series, the meal + cider cost only $15 per person. On the regular menu, entrees cost $14 without drink, with desserts and appetizers coming in at $5-7.

Take-out?:  No.

Delivery?:  No.

Licensed?:  Yes. As befits such an establishment, The Irish Heather offers a robust variety of ales, wines, whiskeys and other alcoholic beverages.

Location(s):  In Gastown, on Carrall Street. Link to Google Maps.

Website and menu: Here.

Summary:  If this is a taste of what gastro-pubs have to offer, then both Olympic visitors and I will have to give this more of a shot! If you’re looking for a more esoteric experience for your money, give the Irish Heather a try. You may not look at Irish pubs the same way again!

Irish Heather on Urbanspoon


CheapAppetite said...

Nice review. This place is really close to my condo, but I've never been there either. Maybe I should give it a try. Thanks for sharing:) The Boston cream pie looks great. Perhaps I will like it because I don't like dessert that's too sweet:)

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