L’Abattoir is arguably one of the most solidly creative and award-blessed restaurants in British Columbia. Lee Cooper is the soft-spoken chef with a boyish demeanour who not only grew up in the restaurant business, but flourished in it.
As a young man he worked in his dad’s A&W franchises in Nanaimo, a city in the heart of Vancouver Island, learning systems and the adrenalin rush that is so much part of the industry. His uncle, Bernard Casavant, is one of the icons of Pacific Northwest dining…there could be no better mentor or, for that matter, no better student. He worked for both Rod Butters and Chef Michael Allemeier in Kelowna’s increasingly hot restaurant scene before heading to England at The Fat Duck.
On his return he met his now-business-partner Paul Grunberg at Vancouver’s Shangri-La Hotel. There, they hatched the plan and largely because of L’Abattoir, the once sorta scuzzy area called Gastown, is being reborn. Within walking distance of a number of hotels including the Four Seasons and all three downtown Fairmont properties, it’s a great and colourful walk to Carrall Street, at the heart of what was once the meat-packing of the small community of Granville.
With the name L’Abattoir, the food follows with many French influences and the menu changes often. There may be sweetbreads on toast with the classic egg-based sauce Gribiche with capers and tarragon or chicken and escargots cooked in butter and served with Spaetzle. The torchon of duck foie gras with cherry, yogurt and sour brioche is as beautiful to look at as it is to savour.
Lee honours his Vancouver Island roots with many perfectly prepared seafood dishes. Pacific halibut is baked in brown butter and served with black garlic; rockfish is grilled over charcoal. There are baked Pacific oysters with whipped garlic butter and grilled squid stuffed with pork and herbs.
For dessert, amongst a carefully selected roster of deliciousness, there’s an apple ‘meringue’ with ginger sorbet, frozen elderflower and yuzu.
Co-ower Paul Grunberg always provides a warm greeting. Like Chef Cooper, he has been immersed in all things culinary for years and it shows. Few restaurants are as professionally run.
Sitting at the bar, it’s a cross between magic and chemistry with an array of small glass vials of various elixirs and potions. William Johnson is L’Abattoir’s sommelier and certified cocktail expert. Here it’s all about classic cocktails…the menu has 8 that he can actually pair with the culinary menu. They have also created some of their own…one dubbed The Avocado Gimlet a smooth concoction of rosemary and olive infused gin, fresh avocado, Apfelkorn schnapps and fresh lime juice. As a total fan of MadMen, my choice would be the Don Draper – Buffalo Trace, Cocchi Americano, Abricot de Rouillson, Peychauds bitters and Absinthe.
Heirloom Tomato (Zaklan Heritage Farm, Surrey, BC), Buffalo Milk Fromage Blanc (Mt Lehman Cheese, Abbotsford, BC), Sourdough
Smoked Spring Salmon (F.I.S.H., Vancouver, BC ), Alliums (Glorious Organics, Aldergrove, BC), Crispy Potato, Watercress
Chorizo crusted Ling Cod filet (F.I.S.H., Vancouver, BC ), English Peas (Hanna Brooke Farm, Maple Ridge, BC), Manila Clams (Outlandish Shellfish Guild, Heriot Bay, BC), Sauce Paloise
Buckwheat Honey Cake (Hives For Humanity, Vancouver, BC), Beeswax, Summer Berries (Hazelmere Organics, Surrey, BC)
L’Abattoir is one of about 250 restaurants that celebrate Food Day across Canada. Contact them at the number below.
L’Abattoir est l’un des 250 restaurants à travers tout le Canada qui participent au Journée des terroirs
217 Carrall Street,
Vancouver, B.C. V6B 2J2
Photography by Hamid Attie, Vancouver