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Cuisses de grenouilles (barbecued frog legs) dish is pictured at Chambar in Vancouver, British Columbia on November 13, 2014.

Ben Nelms

3.5 out of 4 stars

568 Beatty St., Vancouver, British Columbia
Breakfast, $9 to $17; lunch, $9 to $20; bar snacks, $5 to $23; dinner, $12 to $47
Rating System
Additional Info
Sun. to Wed., 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., Thurs. to Sat., 8 a.m. to midnight. Reservations recommended.

When Chambar opened in 2004, the sexy grotto off the beaten track turned fine dining on its head. It was sophisticated, yet unpretentious. There were no white tablecloths, but the servers laid linen napkins in your lap. Fine wine shared space with the most inventive cocktails in town. The classically grounded cuisine was a riot of bold flavours. But was it Belgian, Moroccan or French? Who knew? Who cared? It was simply delicious and fabulously funky.

Ten years later, Chambar has moved to a larger location two doors down. It's still impossible to define. And it's still turning heads.

The new space looks similar, with brick walls, wooden beams and vaulted ceilings. The upper-level layout is the same, with a lounge area and bar in front, leading to a high-ceilinged dining room appointed with red-leather booths, tufted banquettes, oversized resin artwork and stunning blown-glass light fixtures by Omer Arbel.

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Although cozy, the restaurant is now twice as large, spread over two levels with capacity for 270, plus a 50-seat patio. Situated on a corner, it's wrapped with windows on three sides. The lower level, which houses the kitchen, is designed as a spillover dining area. But the room is still packed most nights and could use a bit more design love.

It's also unfortunate that the lower-level windows face the Stadium-Chinatown Skytrain exit. Even though they've been frosted over, diners are still privy to shadow puppet performances of roughies doing their business in the bushes. Such is the downtown dining experience.

Signature dishes – tomato coconut cream Congolaise moules frites, spiced foie gras terrine, slow braised lamb shank tajine – still take pride of place on the dinner menu. But chef-owner Nico Schuermans, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Karri, never stops inventing.

Among the many enticing amuse gueules, you'll find silky frog legs sautéed in sriracha. Eaten with the fingers and dipped in avocado ranch, the tender meat slips off tiny bones. They're like luxurious chicken wings for grown-ups. Curried goat sausages served with freshly shaved coconut and whipped almond and cilantro butters offer a wow moment with every bite.

Braised rabbit is stuffed in cannelloni and sprinkled with a chewy-crunchy medley of lingonberries, dates and pistachios. Autumn salad is a colourful abstract of wine-poached pear, chanterelles, shaved sunchokes, whipped feta and pecan crisps.

Golden roasted sablefish, adorned with fresh pomegranate seeds and twisted parsnip branches, is ladled with a light miso curry. The flavours sound crazy, but they all come together beautifully. This is fusion at its finest.

Having severed ties with former parters at Café Medina and the Dirty Apron cooking schools, Chambar now offers its own breakfast, lunch and brunch. Again, you'll find your old favourites – curried orzo paella, braised short rib fricassee and Liège waffles.

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But don't overlook some of the great new dishes, including lemongrass roasted beef – cut as thin as carpaccio with a crunchy green papaya salad. Or the venison burger draped in melted cave-aged gruyère, mushroom ragout and black-pepper jam.

General manager Justin Tisdall keeps the bar fresh with superb cocktails garnished with glacial ice. Seriously, he gets a frozen chunk every week and carves it into spheres.

Jason Yamasaki, who was recently named best sommelier in B.C. by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers and will vie for the national title, has created an eclectic cellar. I love that he puts a sherry at the top of the lunch menu and chooses natural wines that are approachable and not too esoteric for the sake of being different.

Some might balk at an $8 bread plate. But everyone is charging for bread these days. I'd rather pay $8 for chewy fresh focaccia baked with parsnip (the bread changes daily) than $2 for stale baguette.

Desserts are a bit fussy. Deconstructed tiramisu wasn't grounded in any particular flavour. The phyllo pastry anchoring pomme tatin was too tough to cut. But when everything else exceeds expectations, a slightly faulty final course is a small gripe.

Chambar was one of Vancouver's best restaurants the minute it opened. Ten years and a new room later, it hasn't slipped a notch.

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