– Words by Joanne Peters Photography by Lia Crowe
Granville Island packs a lot into its 40 or so acres: the former industrial site is home to theatres, art galleries, specialty shops and much more. Where the urban peninsula really shines, however, is in its culinary offerings.
The Public Market is famous for everything from fresh crab to apple fritters the size of dinner plates. And while it’s great to make it a day of grazing, there’s nothing like sitting down for a meal at one of Granville Island’s standout restaurants with city-meets-sea vistas.
Tap & Barrel Bridges is the island’s newest culinary destination, and we’re willing to call it a knockout. Nearly all of the restaurant’s 800 seats have breathtaking views of False Creek, the marina and the West End; there’s Burrard Street Bridge and beyond it, English Bay and the North Shore mountains. The year-round heated and covered patio, along with the extended upper balcony with a retractable roof, boast nearly 400 seats combined, the umbrellas matching the building’s iconic sunflower yellow.
A brief bit of history: the landmark restaurant, located in what was formerly the Arrow Transfer building, first opened in 1980, with Bridges being among the first anchor tenants to move into the cultural hub operated by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The place is close to Tap & Barrel owner Daniel Frankel’s heart; his parents moved his family to Vancouver from Israel to help bring Bridges to life with a team of founders on the once-derelict site.
Other than the venue’s sunny exterior, most of the restaurant has changed, with the interior taken right down to the studs and rebuilt with a new floor plan and fixtures. It’s a more open and breezy space than before, with butcher-block tables and booths looking out to the water through floor-to-ceiling windows. There are flat-screen TVs for sports games; a glass-encased fireplace at one end; a “library room” upstairs where people can flip through books; and accents that pay tribute to the community’s marine heritage, with mirrors resembling portholes and a wall of dangling, weathered wooden buoys. There are even some of Frankel’s own artworks here and there. (Look up, waaay up.)
Josh Gale, executive chef of culinary development, has created a menu that fuses Tap & Barrel’s focus on premium comfort food with the seafood-forward cuisine for which Bridges was known.
Anyone who frequented Bridges will instantly recognize the hot seafood caesar—the greens studded with seared garlic prawns, halibut and salmon, all topped with shaved fennel,house-baked croutons, crispy capers and Parmesan in a creamy dressing. A pleasing tomato-fennel broth is the savoury base for seafood cioppino, with mussels, seared prawns, halibut and Yukon gold potatoes.
Then there are the famous Bridges nachos, a locals’ favourite featuring crunchy cumin-dusted tortilla chips, cheddar, smoked mozzarella, pickled jalapeños, black olives, pico de gallo, feta cheese, green onion, cilantro and sour cream. (Look for the “b” on the menu for menu items that are Bridges classics.)
Then there are newly created dishes, such as hummus and baked-to-order za’atar flatbread with whipped feta and harissa; honey Valentina lettuce wraps, with either crispy fried chicken or cauliflower, along with fillings like charred corn and roasted pumpkin seeds; and a truffle-mushroom mac and cheese cranked on the flavour scale with arugula, sharp cheddar bechamel, and Parmesan breadcrumbs. The noodles for this dish come from InGrain, a BC company; other local suppliers include Mario’s Gelato and Island City Baking Co., to name a few. We love that the seafood is Ocean Wise.
The rotating tap list is purely BC, the 32 taps representing some of the best brews in the province: think Brewhall Beer Co., Wildeye Brewing, Red Truck Beer Company, House of Funk Brewing Co., Granville Island Brewing and Superflux Beer Company. Sixteen wines are on tap, and the system allows for premium options to be served by the glass. The list leans local, but this location is Tap & Barrel’s first to offer international bottles. Desserts are not an afterthought in the culinary team’s hands, with up to six selections; we’re suckers for the sticky toffee pudding, which consists of a warm date and molasses cake, smooth toffee sauce, Mario’s vanilla bean gelato and addictive candied walnuts.
Beer and wine flights, happy hour and brunch are all available; this is a place to kick back, soak it all in, and play tourist in your own town.
At the opposite end of Granville Island is another stunning waterfront dining destination. Dockside Restaurant in the Granville Island Hotel features an elegant indoor space with double-height windows and ceilings, and a 50-foot aquarium; the outdoor setting, with beautiful greenery, flowers and even a few cherry trees, makes for serene al fresco dining.
Views here are unique, as your eyes follow the furthest reaches of False Creek toward Telus World of Science, the city’s skyline across the way; there’s so much marine activity to watch, from people on paddle boards to dragon boats plying the waters and sailboats heading out to sea. Distinct patio spaces total just over 200 seats, with cabana-style sections and luxe low chaises around gorgeous marble fire tables.
Ocean Wise seafood plays a starring role on executive chef Zach Steele’s menu, with dishes such as seared plump scallops served with almond purée, green beans, bacon, apple and watercress and dressed in warm shallot vinaigrette; and steelhead salmon accompanied by chorizo-and-cannellini bean ragu and cavolo nero, a dark green Italian variety of kale. Halibut is featured in an innovative way; the grilled filet comes in a pool of creamed corn purée with celery, cubes of potato and carrot, and chili and chive oils. The flavours evoke the kind of nourishing chowder a mariner would crave.
Steele adeptly gives texture to his dishes; take the toothsome roasted beets and carrots with the snap of puffed barley, the creaminess of labneh in an evenly balanced tarragon vinaigrette.
There are other nice touches here: all of the restaurant’s flatbreads for hand-helds (such as pesto-prosciutto arugula or hot-smoked salmon) are made in house by executive sous chef Joel Chiasson, while breads and rolls are from La Baguette, a local supplier formerly on Granville Island. Other from-here purveyors that Dockside prides itself on supporting are Two Rivers Specialty Meats, Mikuni Wild Harvest and Oyama Sausage Co.
Being in a hotel, Dockside is open for breakfast, lunch, happy hour, dinner and weekend brunch. Look for local beer by the likes of Red Truck Beer Company, Four Winds Brewing and 33 Acres Brewing Company; spirits by Vancouver Island’s Ampersand Distilling Co.; and wines by BC’s own Blasted Church Vineyards and Stoneboat Vineyards, among others.
Desserts here are handled with as much thought as mains. We love the idea of sharing the triple chocolate mousse—with blackout sponge cake, milk chocolate mousse, white chocolate mousse, dark chocolate mirror glaze and vanilla anglaise—and the Instagram-worthy lemon tart, with its caramel orange compote and hat of dry meringue.