When shopping for discounted Armani, one can’t subsist on mineral water alone. But fashion is one thing, food is another. No bargainista worth her budget Balenciaga would deign to dine on off-the-rack food court fare.
So what is a forward-thinking luxury outlet mall to do? The folks who run the new McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Vancouver Airport mall came up with a novel solution. In addition to a regular rotation of food trucks by the front entrance, the open-air shopping centre will host four permanent sitdown eateries – Ryuu Izakaya, Bibo Pizzeria, The Noodle House and Caffé Artigiano. The latter, however, was the only one ready to roll for last month’s launch. The rest should be firing up their grills this fall.
In the meantime, the mall has partnered with Hawkers Market, an entrepreneurial incubator for local food businesses. Since 2012, the social food hub has held semi-regular public markets in Vancouver and Calgary, where start-up foodies can test their fare with paying customers.
Vendors are vetted not just for food quality, but also on their business plan and professionalism. The markets – part food festival, part night market, part nightclub – feature licensed, ticketed events with DJs, bands, pop-up kitchens, craftspeople and artisans. Their latest, Hawkers Mercado, is a pop-up artisan food hall in one of the mall’s empty storefronts that features some of the Hawkers Market regulars with a few new independents.
Originally slated to run until Labour Day weekend, Mercado has been extended to Sept. 30. Much like the concept, the vendor schedule is a little loose. The most interesting stalls (those listed below) operate Friday to Sunday. Check it out while you can. Where else are you able to spoon aerated foie gras after scoring a $300 Coach bag?
New to the Vancouver scene, Bayan Ghadrshenas comes from Toronto by way of Asia. His market fare draws heavily on regional Chinese cuisines: Xian spicy cold noodles and bao buns stuffed with succulent hoisin pulled pork or braised cumin-oil-rubbed chicken, spicy mustard leaves and sweet pickles.
These authentic soft-tortilla tacos come all the way from Chilliwack, where Hugo Garcia runs a casual restaurant inspired by family recipes from Cuernavaca, Mexico. Barbacoa de res (slow-cooked sirloin tip) is darkly aromatic; tinga de pollo (pulled chicken) has deep chipotle smoke brightened by fresh crema. Save room for hot, sugar-sprinkled churros or the churro ice-cream sandwich.
Caviar and foie gras in a shopping mall food hall? Only Jefferson Alvarez would be so daring. The Michelin-star-minded chef recently left Gastown’s Secret Location to start his own pop-up business while searching for the right restaurant investor. At McArthurGlen, he’s doling melt-in-the-mouth puffed foie gras, aerated in a whipped-cream canister and served chilled with wild berries and Nextjen gluten-free brioche, along with tins of locally farmed Northern Divine caviar.
There are three types of slow-smoked, Southern-style barbecue: competition, restaurant and backyard.
Somehow Marc D. Wicks, recently arrived from Calgary, manages to combine the best of all worlds in a food hall that doesn’t even allow for grilling.
The organic beef brisket in his baguette sandwich is richly infused with local alder wood, cooked to a perfect “church windowpane consistency” (when you stretch the meat, you can see little gaps where the collagen has melted between the tendons) and warmed in broth to order. Just imagine what this guy could do with a proper pit and gear.
Prema is the Sanskrit word for love. Chai is a traditional Indian spiced-milk tea. Tas Cheema is a food scientist and organic chemist who created a heat-treated, ready-to-drink bottled product that captures the warm cardamom, clove and ginger glow of his mother’s recipe without any preservatives or cloying sweeteners. Now, whenever Mr. Cheema’s father asks for chai, his mother hands him a bottle and says, “Here, go heat it up.”