Name: Origo Club
Location: 110-6888 River Rd., Richmond, B.C.
Cuisine: French fine dining, café and coffee bar
Prices: Dinner appetizers, $15 to $28; mains, $32 to $68; afternoon tea, $45
Additional information: Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; afternoon tea Friday and Saturday, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; reservations accepted.
Rating system: N/A
By day, the new Origo Club in Richmond’s Oval Village is a stylish café that offers an exquisite afternoon tea service – and espresso coffee (pulled from a state-of-the-art Modbar brewing system) so sour it tastes like vinegar.
By night, the kitchen serves exceptionally fine French nouvelle cuisine (with haute wines and prices to match) – in a setting that feels like a thumping hotel lobby bar.
Most of the time, an adjacent art gallery, filled with precious ceramics, tapestries and hand-painted Tibetan thangkas, sits as empty as a forgotten temple echoing with the crying shame of so much money wasted on grand ambitions
All-day dining is one of the biggest restaurant trends in North America. It is typically born from desperation: to maximize profit in an industry with razor-thin margins that is being squeezed on all sides; and to feed a growing hunger for more casual, less-pricey fare as formal fine dining continues to totter off a cliff.
The Origo Club approaches its all-day dining concept from the opposite direction. The intention is to introduce upscale French cuisine, niche Burgundian wines and third-wave coffee to a city dominated by Asian (primarily Chinese) restaurants, trophy Bordeaux in cheap stemware (when you can find it) and bubble tea.
From the outset, it makes good business sense. And, lucky for local managing partner Woody Wu, money is no object.
I first met the affable co-owner in the summer, shortly after the restaurant had opened, when I stopped in for lunch on my way to a sample sale at the nearby Olympic Oval. There aren’t many other reasons to be passing through this out-of-the-way neighbourhood, which will soon be bursting with more than 20 new condominium towers, but for now, is one massive construction site.
Mr. Wu explained that he was in for the long haul, having signed a 10-year lease on the space and spending $5-million (more than twice the original budget) on the build. His silent partner is a Chinese businessman who owns a private club, Origo, in Beijing. They met several years ago, after Mr. Wu left Hawksworth Restaurant (where he was opening sommelier) to open a consulting business.
That day, as I tucked into tangy Salade de Kale Lyonnaise (served on delicate Delft china) and drank a $13 Ethiopian pour-over (presented on a wooden platter with tasting notes that included the farm lot and altitude at which the Gori Gesha beans were grown), Mr. Wu told me of his plans to develop coffee seminars, master wine classes and tours to Europe that would help “educate” Richmond’s new Chinese immigrants about the intricacies of Western fine dining. Although not a private members club, it sounded more like a cultural centre than a restaurant – and one that was still a work-in-progress.
Fast-forward a few months. The 100-day celebration had passed, the much-ballyhooed afternoon tea service had launched and a partnership with Champagne Barons de Rothschild had been sealed over a series of private dinners, including one on a yacht in Coal Harbour.
And yet, when I went for dinner, they still couldn’t get my wine order right. The server brought me a glass of Bordeaux when I asked for a Rhône, but only after I flagged her down, practically begging for something to drink after the food was well on its way.
The food, however, is phenomenal. Forget Richmond. Head chef David Pan, formerly of Bishop’s, is cooking some of the brightest tasting and elegantly restrained French classics in the entire Lower Mainland. Escargot shells are individually piped with emerald-green garlic butter that is lively with lemon and parsley. Pan-fried scallops, still pink in their fleshy centres, are splashed with sharply fruity Champagne vinaigrette. Foie gras terrine, as smooth as butter, is accented with dots of celeriac purée, kirsch-soaked cherries and ruby-port gelée that all ring clear as bells.
Seared duck breast is carefully rendered and lightly rubbed with warm five-spice seasoning that infuses the snappy meat, lifts a light orange jus and seductively slithers into an extremely moreish side of sticky black rice. Rare lamb rack is pure and clean without a hint of gaminess or greasiness, served with unforgettable couscous that practically undulates in the mouth from multiple waves of lemon, geranium and grains of paradise.
Mr. Pan’s cooking deserves a better platform. Although effusively friendly, the service lacks polish.
Also, there is no effort to transition the dining room from day to night. The lights are bright, the techno soundtrack is played loud, dishes clatter and coffee grinders whir behind the open counter and the tables are still set with place mats. At these prices, they could at least throw some white tablecloths down.
The coffee program is another grand ambition that aims high and falls flat. The Modbar technology is a fancy-looking system with shiny taps (espresso, automated pour-over and steam) that tucks all the heavy-working machinery into stereo-sized modules under the counter. It’s designed for extremely busy coffee shops staffed by professional baristas who have the time to tinker with volumetric pressure and temperature controls.
When I return for afternoon tea, it takes coffee manager Remi Ho (who doubles as the restaurant’s hard-working pastry chef) four attempts to calibrate an espresso beverage that doesn’t taste harshly bitter, blandly thin or electrifyingly sour.
His pastries are better, but not great. The sponge cake is a bit moist, the financier too fluffy, savoury tarts are off-puttingly sweet and the macarons (which he outsources) dense and chewy. Flan au fromage blanc is lovely, with its buttery shortcut pastry, but not enough of a draw to make me rush back.
Well, at least they have 10 years to work out the kinks. By then, everything should be running smooth.