I don’t really consider myself a celebrity-chef chaser; if I am, I would’ve tried all famous restaurants in town already. And I haven’t, far from it. However, this time around I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to try ensemble Restaurant & Bar, owned by the winner of Top Chef Canada, Chef Dale MacKay.
I was particularly interested in trying Dale’s food because of my following of the TV show. It feels like you know all these chefs so well after watching them on TV for several weeks. haha. And I’ve been rooting for him, for a BC chef to win this thing. Surely he didn’t disappoint.
On a Friday night I checked out the restaurant with several coworkers. We got there at around 5:00pm and it was rather quiet, probably because people were just starting to get off work. The traffic sure picked up from there, since it was almost a full house when we left shortly after 7pm.
The menu concept is basically modern French-influenced small-plates. Even though the menu is presented in such a way that there are dishes reminiscent of appetizers and some of entrees, ultimately they are about the same size. So I started with a cold soup, something I don’t usually order. The Dungeness Crab with Spiced Melon Soup was quite refreshing. There was a generous serving of crab meat sitting on top of the soup, which was just slightly spiced – kinda reminds me of a melon smoothie. It’s a good mix of sweet and savouriness.
For my next dish I chose the Black Cod with Thai Broth. I’ve always been a fan of black cod, so the idea of a good piece of black cod in a spicy broth piqued my interest. I was taken aback by how small the dish was, though. It was literally a (rather) small piece of black cod in a broth, with a few pieces of bok choy. That was it. There were no carbs or anything with it. Flavour wise, I enjoyed the piece of fish, it was cooked right with the proper texture; however I found the broth a bit too salty with a tiny bit of heat. It was a better balance when you eat the fish with the broth.
As for dessert, I set my eyes on the Souffle of the Day, which was pineapple flavour. The server warned us in advance that the souffle would take 18 minutes to make, since each of them was made to order, but we went ahead anyway since 4 out of 6 of us wanted the souffle. And boy, it was worth the wait! It was light and airy, and you can actually taste bits of pineapple meat in the souffle. It’s accompanied by a thin slice of pineapple and a small scoop of coconut ice cream. It’s like a deconstructed pina colada! (Hmm perhaps that’s what he wanted to do, since he did a few things deconstructed on the show too!) The flavour was very well balanced.
Two of my coworkers who didn’t go for the souffle ordered the Chocolate Fondant and a chocolate mousse. Both desserts were sprinkled with edible gold flakes. Fancy. TW made sure I took note of this.
Up until the dessert course, I was nowhere near feeling full. The first two dishes just weren’t enough, but it felt just right after I had the souffle. I guess the eggs helped.
By the way, I went to the ensemble restaurant after the dinner, discovering that my 3 dishes were all previously shown on Top Chef Canada. What are the chances! I ordered them solely because they looked good on the menu.
All in all I think the service quality was decent. The server told us up front that the portion size is small at this restaurant, so really, there was no surprise there. Well, I was surprised by the (lack of) components in my fish course, but I could’ve ordered something more filling such as risotto and gnocchi.
Chef Dale actually took the time and greeted every table. That’s a nice touch; obviously most people were there because they saw him on TV, or had heard that he used to work at Lumiere. So either way, they were there for him so it’s a good idea to say hi to all the fans.
I read some of the reviews prior to visiting the restaurant, and was surprised that there were a lot of negative comments, mostly surrounding the flavouring and portion size. The flavour was pretty good overall, I quite enjoyed my 3 dishes. The portion size may be small but it’s just like those tapa places. All my coworkers said they would either go back again or would recommend to other people to eat there. I personally would go back just for another souffle. Yummmmm
ensemble Restaurant & Bar
850 Thurlow Street, Vancouver