I’ve always thought of The Fish House in Stanley Park as “one of those tourist destinations”. You know, every city has them – a place in a prominent city landmark destination that doesn’t have to be particularly good because tourists are going to flock there because of the destination. And Stanley Park is definitely a hot tourist destination.
Somehow, I never made the connection between this “tourist” restaurant and chef Karen Barnaby. I don’t know how I missed it – but I did until I started to research this article. Turns out Karen has been executive chef at The Fish House in Stanley Park since 1995. Who knew? I’m sure plenty of people. Karen is one of Vancouver’s great chefs. Back when I was officially plying my own restaurant trade, I remember Karen from The Raintree Restaurant and I remember just how good that restaurant was and the accolades it was receiving at the time.
It was a surprise during the meal, but no surprise now, that the luncheon we recently experienced at The Fish House in Stanley Park was exceptional. My girlfriend and I decided on a Tuesday night that we wanted to go there the next day for lunch and we met in the parking lot on a grey, slightly drizzly day. One thing to note is while there is ample parking in a lot adjacent to the Fish House, it is subject to the Stanley Park parking fees – a bit of a nit for me but not a huge barrier to entry.
The building is beautiful and in such a beautiful setting in the Park and really only a short walk in from English Bay. We had no reservation but were greeted warmly and promptly seated in a lovely booth. The restaurant was moderately busy.
The lunch menu runs the fish and seafood gamut from a wide variety of local items from the ubiquitous salmon and oysters and BC sablefish to some imported exotics like Mahi Mahi and Ahi Tuna, Altantic Lobster, East Coast Scallops and Smoked Alaskan Black Cod. The lunch menu has six Ocean Wise selections and for the non-water creature eaters there’s a Prime Rib burger, Chicken Ciabatta and Tomato Boccancini Penne Pasta.
We settled in and settled on splitting the prepared to order Clam Chowder to start, followed by an order of the steamed Mussels and then I chose the Angel Cakes as a main and my girlfriend chose the Lobster Tails meal.
I love clam chowder, particularly the Boston style white clam chowder. If it’s on the menu at a seafood restaurant, I will generally give it a go. And I have had many a Boston Clam Chowder during my once frequent trips to Boston. Unfortunately, all too often it’s a thick sludge made with too much cream and/or too much flour, potato starch or – gasp, as I’ve had on one occasion – corn starch. I’m sure you’ve come across this kind. Overloaded with potato and your spoon stands up in the middle of it. It’s all gloop and it’s all wrong.
This Clam Chowder was simple and simply delicious. A silky fish broth with just the right amount of cream so that it was still broth but rich and luxurious. The right balance of clams, vegetables and potato with fresh clipped chives on top and perfectly seasoned. As I told our excellent server, my only disappointment was that I was sharing it.
We mopped up the last drops of the soup with lovely bread and butter that was replenished promptly in time for the Steamed Mussels. These were absolutely fresh, really plump and meaty in a light tomato based broth with hints of cilantro and coconut milk laced with sea asparagus. The mussels themselves were delicious but I found the broth a bit too tomato tangy to lap on on its own. The portion was generous and quite frankly I was nearly filled up before my main even arrived.
The Angel Cakes are a unique combination of angel hair pasta mixed with crab meat and asiago cheese formed into a cake, battered in panko and then deep fried to a crisp golden brown outside and a soft creamy textured centre inside, then dribbled with an ebi mayonnaise. I had been warned by our server that they were rich and this was no understatement. They were very rich, but equally as delicious, served with a fresh wild greens salad drizzled with a light balsamic vinaigrette that offset and sliced through the rich flavour of the cakes very nicely. Delicious.
The Atlantic Lobster Tails ranked amongst the sweetest lobster meat I have ever tasted. Served simply and with a proper clarified butter, they were accompanied by steamed kale, yellow beets and mashed potato. Each of the vegetable items uniquely prepared, seasoned and flavourful on their own.
You’d think it would have been enough but we don’t like to skimp and we both like something a bit sweet, particularly when the meal has been so good that it’s evident the desserts will be too, and, as such we caved on the recommended dessert. Pumpkin Chiffon Cheesecake topped with Poppycock – likely homemade (you may be familiar with this popcorn, caramel and nut treat) and a sprig of fresh mint. The cheesecake was in between that whipped light style and the heavier New York creamy style. It was, like very other item of the afternoon, bloody delicious.
The Fish House in Stanley Park has started me on the road to a whole new attitude towards those seemingly “tourist” destinations. I can’t wait for another opportunity to return there! Thanks Karen!