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This roof is a bit shaky: Go for drinks but not for dinner

The lobster bisque at one of Vancouver's iconic dining rooms which has reopened as a limited-time pop-up at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver May 7, 2014.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

1 out of 4 stars

The Roof Restaurant + Bar
900 W. Georgia St., Vancouver, British Columbia
Dinner appetizers, $11 to $18; mains, $29 to $55
Additional Info
Open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner

Clang. Boom. Bang. The rickety elevator ride to The Roof Restaurant + Bar is an ominous sign. The cab rattles and jerks as startled owl-eyed passengers grab the railings for support before it finally lurches to a halt on the 15th floor. (This happened not just once, but three out of six times I made the trip up and down.)

To celebrate its 75th anniversary, the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is undergoing a $12-million lobby makeover. The renovation, which will include the elevators' mechanical operating system, is obviously long overdue. To compensate for the closing of Griffiths and 900 West Lounge on the ground floor, the hotel has reopened The Roof as a pop-up restaurant.

Until it shuttered in the late-eighties, this bar was the city's swankiest hot spot for big-band music, dancing and cocktails. News of its return was greeted with cherished memories of the Dal Richards Orchestra and visions of Mad Men shenanigans. Finally, if only temporarily, Vancouver would have a place where adults could get all dolled up to go dining and dancing, old-school style.

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Well, that was the thought. The reality is a lot less glamorous.

Even before the wonky elevator ride, The Roof felt shaky. I checked Open Table before making dinner reservations. There were plenty of tables available. But when I called, the hostess told me the room was fully booked that evening. I went back online and made a reservation, no problem. I called a second time to ask about the discrepancy. Again, I was told there were no reservations available. No one called to cancel the reservation I had made online so we went ahead. After the inauspicious elevator ride, we were greeted graciously and led to our table. The restaurant was half empty. Go figure.

If you're just going to the bar, there is no need for reservations. And I do recommend you drop by for a drink. The original sunken bar lining one side of the room offers panoramic views of the city's southern skyline. Gentlemanly bartenders shake classic cocktails (try a Hanky Panky or a frothy White Lady) and dole out Bits & Bites with long-handled ladles.

Stick to the Bits & Bites. Tempura morels, from the appetizer menu, were gummy (likely because the oil in which they were fried wasn't hot enough). Beef carpaccio was wallpapered to the plate. We had to scrape it off to eat the shreds.

And definitely don't bother with dinner. Aside from the view, the north-facing dining room has all the charm of a Chinese banquet restaurant. The overhead lights blaze brightly and the decor is a bland ocean of beige.

The live music (Thursday to Saturday) is a snore-inducing collection of soft jazz and easy-listening duos that would be better suited for the elevators. At least then you wouldn't hear all that clanging.

There is no dance floor. General manager Michael Pye says this is because they needed every inch of space for tables to accommodate guests at breakfast, lunch and dinner. But this seems strange, given how far apart the tables are spaced. There's a long empty row along the windows.

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Chef Cameron Ballendine joined the hotel two years ago, coming from a globetrotting stint with the Fairmont group in China, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France. His temporary menu for The Roof is a nod to its storied past, offering such classics as French onion soup, Boston bibb wedge salad and grilled meats.

Lobster bisque, poured at the table over smoky potato hash, was rich and creamy with a fresh kick of tarragon. Caesar salad was pleasantly sharp, plentifully lashed with Parmesan and garnished with a whole white anchovy rolled over top. An impressive breadbasket included addictive buttery chili grissini.

But then we had to wait and wait and wait for our mains. Not as long as the couple at the next table, who left in a huff after being forgotten for almost an hour. But when the waitress finally arrived with my signature 12-ounce prime rib, it was a good six ounces of fat with cold mashed potatoes and a papery Yorkshire pudding that was dryly hollowed out.

A lean grilled pork chop was so overcooked and tough, it felt like we were chewing on a woollen sock. The chop was served with four sauces on the side that were all lacking in acidity. The sauces – from a sickly sweet demi-glace with the prime rib to the breakfast-style quince jam accompanying the morels – were bad across the board. The chef needs to replace his saucier immediately.

We couldn't depart soon enough. On our way out, the waitress addressed me as "My Lady." Seriously? What century is this? I was looking for a retro experience, but The Roof's heyday is obviously long past. This temporary pop-up, open until November, is a bygone relic that misses the mark. What a sadly wasted opportunity.

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About the Author
Vancouver restaurant critic

Alexandra Gill has been The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver restaurant critic since 2005. She joined the paper as a summer intern in 1997 and was hired full-time as an entertainment columnist the following year. In 2001, she moved to Vancouver as the Western Arts Correspondent, a position she held until 2007. More


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