August 12th, 2008 · 2 Comments

(604) 875-3312
Address: 500 West 12th Ave

But Anyway
a restaurant review

By Jason Chin
Eat Vancouver writer
Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

** and 1/2 (of four stars)

It can’t be easy to maintain a successful hotel restaurant. Besides all of the other difficulties inherent in running a profitable standalone restaurant, there is the small task of feeding a hotel. For instance, there are few fine dining restaurants that have to worry about a breakfast service every morning, but hotel restaurants do. And then there’s the small matter of room service, conference center catering, and providing a watering hole for weary tourists and business travelers. But to attempt all of this while also being nestled snuggly the post-apocalyptic war zone that is Cambie street? It’s probably needless to say that Figmint, the restaurant in question, is not in an altogether enviable position. Not to mention the fact that Figmint is located in the Plaza 500 Hotel, not exactly a household name and a building that looks more like an apartment building than a hotel.

You are probably expecting a ‘but’ here. As in: but, Figmint manages to overcome these challenges and provides a stellar dining experience. Or perhaps a bit more dramatic: but, Figmint stares these obstacles down, braces itself, and stands to meets them head on. Or even a bit more Andrew Morrisony: but, Figmint, wicked awesome in its success, also manages to serve a restorative broth here and there. I could might get a little Alexandra Gilly: but, as my friend Cordie says, it’s not the challenge that counts, but how you use it!

I know.

I will resist these urges, segue maybe not as seamlessly as I could have, and just say Figmint manages to do just fine as a restaurant, with plenty of room for improvement.

My first foray into Figmint was for their Spot Prawn brunch, a limited engagement of course (spot prawn season is unfortunately brief), but still a potentially useful barometer of this restaurant’s character. My first note (chronologically) is that they put out a little plate of lime, lemon and cucumber so the diner may garnish his or her own glass of water. This is a nice, clever touch, but one that fell short on both of my visits there as all three were dried out and well past their prime. Fortunately, figment’s first foible was not a harbinger of things to come. Our server this morning was cheerful and friendly, if a bit inexperienced, but did a fine job of explaining the spot prawn theme and directing us to dishes that suited our tastes. I went with the spot prawn en cocotte, a luxurious preparation that saw the spot prawns served swimming in a sauce of cream and lardons, topped with egg and served with heavily buttered fried toast. The sweet and somewhat spongy nature of the spot prawns worked very nicely with its accompaniments and the fat content in the dish (high) was just what I want in a brunch dish. Unfortunately, the serving size was limited, necessitating (Oh no! Not a…) dessert. As a lighter counterpoint to my creamy entrée, I opted for the strawberry soda dessert. It is a fresh strawberry soda, candied rhubarb garnish, with a salad of strawberry, mint, crème fraîche and black pepper. Overall, this dessert felt disjointed, but it was certainly fun and a welcome change of pace from the usual heavy, chocolate-centric desserts.

A follow-up dinner visit confirmed many of my thoughts, in particular that this is a good, but not great restaurant. This meal’s starter was their onion and Riesling soup ($8), something of a signature dish that has been with the restaurant since its beginnings. Onion is a perpetual bridesmaid, seldom a bride, so I was happy to see it take center stage in this soup. Together with the yolk of the poached egg within and the shaved manchego cheese above, it’s a creamy and soothing concoction, with all of the flavors playing harmoniously. I wish that could be said about the halibut entrée, a dish that certainly needs to be reconceptualized. You see, for a restaurant that lists each entrée by its main ingredient (e.g., onion, foie gras, lamb, halibut), you expect that element to be the main player in the dish, a true representation of what that ingredient can be. Well the halibut is served with a pea and bacon crust, prawn bisque, smoked lemon foam, and a couple of sautéed scallions to boot. These are all very strong flavors, albeit very good ones (especially the inspired smoked lemon foam), but they simply overshadow the relatively mild fish. And they certainly do not elevate it new heights, a feat any good accompaniment should perform. That’s not to say it’s bad of course; it was a cacophony of flavors, but a pleasant one as well. We should, however, expect more from a $28 entrée.

The same could be said for Figmint as a whole: some elements work, and some don’t. For instance, the service is not as seasoned as some staffs in the area, but they are exceedingly friendly and eager to please. The décor, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. The grey striped banquets and simple chairs speak more of an airport waiting area than a culinary hotspot. The drink menu also has Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde quality about it: the beer list is boring, but there are some fine cocktails to be found.

Overall, I get the impression that Figmint doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be, or even what it should be, a dissociation not uncommon among hotel restaurants. These limitations are forgivable, but perhaps not at the near-fine dining prices you’ll encounter. Given its current state, I’d be much happier whiling away a few hours in Figmint’s sizable lounge, sipping on cocktails, nibbling on appetizers, and pretending I’m sitting in busy airport, waiting for some old friends to arrive.

FigMint on Urbanspoon

Tags: Modern Canadian

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Desmond // Aug 13, 2008 at 7:55 am

    Great review! and spot on. I had the lamb which was nicely done, but with an overpowering swirl of flavours.

  • 2 Mojito Madness at Figmint // Aug 13, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    […] XHTML ← Figmint […]

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