Location: 550 Denman St., Vancouver
Prices: Appetizers, $16 to $23; mains, $26 to $40
Additional information: Open Tuesday to Sunday, 5 p.m. to midnight (from 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday); reservations accepted.
Rating system: Casual dining
Why do Vancouver’s most stunning waterfront locations almost invariably attract the worst restaurants? Here’s another Coal Harbour disappointment that can be safely scratched off the list of summer patios that looked promising.
Verre is a bright, glass-encased jewel box that opened in early December at the foot of Denman Street, on the edge of Stanley Park. Simply, yet smartly designed in white marble and black trim with leafy green vines trailing down the windows, it offers panoramic views of the North Shore Mountains in the distance, the marina in the foreground and a tranquil pond rippling off to one side.
Enjoy the vista. For its pleasure, you’ll be socked with top-tier prices (comparable to Le Crocodile and St. Lawrence), treated to clumsy French-Mediterranean classics carpet-bombed with salt and left with a distinct impression that the restaurant is run by amateurs.
Dinner gets off to a fizzling start when the lifeless foam on a watery aged-rum sour cocktail is spilled over the table. Granted, the server with shaking hands appears to be in training, and good help is hard to find these days. But how is she ever going to learn if even a more experienced (and otherwise pleasant) server ignores that sticky pool for the next 15 minutes?
No one should cry over a single spilled cocktail. But on a second visit, a different server leaves a trail of white wine over the foie gras torchon and doesn’t even blink. This is just before she informs us, after consulting with the manager, that said torchon is indeed served at the correct temperature – as cold as a rigid block of butter that has just been pulled out of the fridge. We aren’t complaining. We are merely explaining why we aren’t eating it quite yet and have asked for more sourdough toast, as ours have acquired a chill. At least the additional toast comes free.
The staggering indifference to detail is consistent across the board.
The torchon is riddled with small veins and sinewy strings that pull through the teeth like dental floss. Like nearly every other dish on the menu, the creamy disc has been spackled with a thick crust of Maldon salt, obliterating all other flavour.
Except for the steak tartare, that is. An excessive use of salt tastes slightly less offensive on this dish because the beef - which is also streaked with cold, white untrimmed fat and hacked to smithereens - is deeply saturated with Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce. The seasoning is so heavy-handed that the meat is stained dark brown. This time, the accompanying toast is stale.
Tender humboldt squid, served in large cutlets under a vibrant puttanesca sauce, is the only serviceable dish. But it’s still a sloppy mess that looks like a tower of mashed tomatoes straddling a speckled moat of broken butter sauce.
It’s hard to reconcile such crudely botched cooking with the beautifully styled plates on Verre’s Instagram account. Chef-owner Liam Breen is obviously capable of greater finesse.
And he is returning to Vancouver, after five years in the United Arab Emirates, with an impressive résumé. The “Canadian rebel,” as dubbed by the press in Dubai, was (according to his biography) “the driving force” behind a number of successful restaurants in the luxury Conrad hotel, including Marco Pierre White Grill.
Marco Pierre White, the British celebrity chef who is so meticulous and frightful he once made Gordon Ramsay cry, would never stand for seared lingcod that is served sushi-grade raw and stone-cold in the centre. And yet, that’s the way it comes out of the kitchen at Verre, with a soggy seared skin and more sourdough toast (this time burned around the edges and wet in the centre). It’s served in a pool of lobster bisque, which is a little thin, but deeply imbued with the briny taste of a time-consuming shell stock.
Whole branzino is butterflied and nicely roasted to flaky tenderness, but slathered with gritty paprika that hasn’t cooked down.
Duck cassoulet is a soupy version, the thin stew bobbing with bland sausage medallions and disintegrating beans. Where is that toast, be it cold, soggy or burnt, when you really need it? The duck confit, also devoid of flavour, has been broiled to a patchy, blistery crisp.
Even chocolate-caramel crème brûlée, disconcertingly fudgy in the centre, bites the dust with charred rosemary tips that leave a lingering taste of forest fire in the mouth.
Go for the views, if you must. Avoid the food at all costs.