A couple of afternoons ago I was able to slip into the hive of activity that was the almost finished Botanist restaurant in the Fairmont Pacific Rim. It was all hands on deck with chef Hector Laguna, beverage legends Grant Sceney and David Wolowidnyk, wine director Jill Spoor, and GM Shon Jones-Parry all present in their civvies, busily getting the job done. They were preparing for the evening’s media preview, so even though it looks pretty much good to go in most of the photos below they still have some work to do – not to mention a few friends and family services – before opening to the public on April 24th.
First thoughts on the room? It’s a huge improvement on the Pan-Asian-themed Oru, especially with the bar and champagne lounge sections pushed up front. The 16 seat bar/lab area is essentially a contained imaginarium dedicated to the art of cocktail creation, a place where David and Grant can do their thing (they even have their own kitchen to play with). There’s also a sweet-looking gangster table right at the threshold, a possible future candidate for Best Seat In The House. It looks and feels more connected and of-a-piece than Oru did when all of the action – when there was any action at all – was plugged into the back of the space by the open kitchen. There are some 250 plants (50 different species) creating a natural flow to it all now. The greenery helps in blurring the edges separating the restaurant’s different zones, but customers will help even more.
I had always liked the austerity of Oru. Designed by local firm MGB Architecture, it felt…appropriate. If you recall, Oru was conceived – eight springs ago – in the midst of a financial crisis that was busily kicking the living shit out of Vancouver’s more high end eateries. But as things recovered and righted and Vancouver’s destiny became increasingly intertwined with the fortunes of faceless greedheads who treat our city like a safety deposit box, it felt too Spartan, too reserved, too cold and far, far too beige. In contrast, Botanist – as the name alludes – is a studious celebration of beautiful, complicated things that are good and clean and alive.
There are now real anchor points and curves to the dining room, and well considered ancillaries like non-gender-specific accessory side tables (aka “a place to put your expensive purse”). It all feels sexy without being gauche about it. This was no small feat. The designers at Ste. Marie Design, the identity gurus at Glasfurd & Walker, and the greenery wranglers at ByNature pulled off quite a switcheroo while also keeping – apparently at the hotel’s insistence – Oru’s iconic, 180 ft. long origami light installation by Joseph Wu. But from the very start of the build my favourite thing about Botanist has been its defining, core aesthetic materials, all those tactile, tickety boo things from the business cards and concept primers (press materials) to the typefaces and Instagrammed set-pieces. It’s been so well conceived visually that it would be a huge disappointment if the day to day operations of the place let it down in any way.
But how likely is that with the team they’ve put together? Not bloody likely, just so long as they stick around. And I expect they will. I don’t know Grant Sceney well at all, but I know he’s a loyal Fairmont guy. And it was always my understanding that Wolowidnyk, who recently celebrated his 30th year in hospitality, was born under the bar at West, so the move away from long-time employer/surrogate parent TopTable was huge. The drinks – including Spoor’s terroir-focused wine list – are a sure thing. As for the menu…
I haven’t eaten a thing or sipped a cocktail at Botanist yet. I’m totally in the dark on that score. I also missed the dinner that Hector did with David Gunawan a couple of weeks ago, so I know nothing of his abilities save for very positive hearsay from people I respect, namely other chefs. I have, however, taken long, drooling looks at his menus, and they read as temptingly as they should with price points reaching into the mid-$40 range. Read it yourself. Aside from the Nova Scotia lobster it appears to be a safe and steady celebration of the when and where we are, a sort of bigger budget Bishop’s with ambition tailored by Gucci — and priced accordingly. There are less than two dozen eateries in Vancouver that aspire to play and succeed at this level, and Botanist has a good team to take the field with. I expect it will be excellent – perhaps even at breakfast – but only time and experience will tell. Here’s the official word:
Executive Chef Hector Laguna’s menu depicts the culinary abundance of the region – produce rooted from the soil of the northwest, sustainably sourced seafood; and organic agricultural methods from backyard suppliers. Signature items include root vegetables, oven-roasted halibut with spring vegetables and crab emulsion, and herb crusted lamb rack with green garlic panisse, fava and shallots. The menu is accompanied by wine director Jill Spoor’s boutique terroir-driven wine program that supports sustainable, organic and biodynamic farming and winemaking practices.
Designed by award-winning Ste. Marie Design with brand and identity developed by Glasfurd & Walker, the collection of venues begins with the Champagne Lounge. Overlooking The Lobby Lounge on the second floor, it’s surrounded by glass and planters filled with greenery indigenous to British Columbia. The Champagne Lounge is open daily from 4:00pm and offers global sparkling wines and exclusive and rare offerings from both Champagne and internationally, complemented by a menu of small plates including oysters, caviar, seasonal crudités, and local artisanal cheese platters.
In contrast the Cocktail Bar, with a dark palette of Italian Terrazzo and dramatic curved glass, is dedicated to the hotel’s creative science of cocktails. Led by Grant Sceney, the hotel’s creative beverage director, and David Wolowidnyk, Botanist head bartender, the international award-winning duo created a list of whimsical yet sophisticated cocktails. The elevated beverage experience is enhanced by the Cocktail Lab with commercial kitchen elements such as a centrifuge, band saw, and roto-vaporizer. Select libations give a nod to its chemistry inspired roots and botanical background. The Deep Cove for example uses Island Gin, sea buckthorn, and blue algae and is served in a bespoke glass molded onto a log of driftwood.
The adjacent Garden invites guests to linger in a glass-walled space filled with greenery, a trellis and more than 50 different types of plant species that include rare fruit bushes, and edible species such as green tea camellia, cardamom and ginger.
The sensory experience culminates in the Dining Room, a place intended to be active and engaging morning to night. A mixture of various limestone, whitewashed woods and ornate metalwork sets its foundation with pops of plant material found throughout. The layout invites guests to engage with one another, best illustrated by a series of tables that connect via a flowing ‘S’ curve banquette. The private dining room, with seating for 18 maintains interplay with the main room through its glass doors.
Located at 1038 Canada Place, the dining room and garden will be open seven days per week for breakfast, lunch and dinner service, and the bar opens daily from 11:00am. Reservations can be made by visiting the website at www.botanistrestaurant.com or calling 604-695-5500.