Barbara is a new restaurant in Chinatown run by Patrick Hennessy and Betty Cooper, with the pair displaying impressive highlights on their resumes. Hennessy was one of the sous chefs at New York City’s Eleven Madison Park, World’s Best Restaurant winner in 2017, as well as a sous chef at Chambar and Kissa Tanto. Cooper was behind the bar at Hawksworth, Nightingale, and Boulevard. The team of 2 is looking after an intimate space with only 17 seats, but recently re-arranged to have only 10 seats with social distancing. At Barbara restaurant, The bar and the chef’s counter are connected. Sitting by the bar with Areta (@foodgressing), I felt like being at one of the izakaya spots in Japan, where the chef is the only person to cook, serve, and entertain you.
Let’s start with Betty’s cocktails. The Jabberwocky ($16) is gin forward and sophisticated, featuring Deep Cove Mediterranean Gin, Lillet Blanc, Manzanilla Sherry, orange bitters, and smoked rosemary. The Day’s Eye ($15) is also boozy but tasty with some refreshing touches, mixed with tequila, amaro, lime, cucumber, agave, and orange bitter. Areta went for the Summer Basis ($6), a garden-fresh mocktail made with Thai basil, fresh lemon juice, soda, citrus consomme.
With only 9 dishes, the menu changes regularly to reflect the local in-season ingredients. And these dishes are under 3 categories by price: $16, $18, and $19. And there is also the tasting option to pick one dish from each category for $53. But isn’t this exactly how much for the dishes added up? The tasting option does not include dessert either.
The first couple of $16 dishes were put together quickly and the components had been prepped. The Beef Tartare itself was quite subtle, hardly tasted of the espellet pepper or cassis mentioned in the description. The tuna flavour in Albacore Tonnato was a bit lost as the char on the broccoli and cauliflower overpowered everything. Realizing I’m not a big fan of eating cold BBQ veggies, but who really is? These dishes reminded me of a dish I’d had at Elisa, the Veal Tartare, which also came with tuna tonnado, and was a much more refined dish capturing the essence of these 2 dishes.
However, the first bite that really impressed me was from the House-made Fries, which served as an in-between course. This is the only perk that you would get from ordering the tasting menu.
The next round of small warm dishes priced at $18 exhibited much more promising flavours. Both dishes are meant to showcase one single ingredient. While the Variations of Corn presents corn in many ways – roasted, blanched and pudding, and enhanced with manchego and bacon, the Crispy Octopus is more about putting octopus through different preparations – marinated, braised, grilled, and deep-fried. The corn dish was tasty but didn’t wow me. And I was expecting a much more tender texture after biting through the crispy exterior of the octopus.
The next 2 dishes from the $19 category were the favourites of the evening. Both the Arctic Char and the Fraser Vally Duck breast were fresh and prepared from scratch. And the chef’s techniques and culinary experience finally shined through the dishes as they were cooked perfectly. The flavour profiles were spot-on as well.
The dessert was Rhubard Granita with Strawberry ($7), which is not included in the tasting option.
The Dining Experience
Dinner at the intimate Barbara reminds me of a typical Shinjuku izakaya in Shinjuku, where the chef runs the place solo most of the time, working the bar and the kitchen, serving, and entertaining guests. However, at Barabara, chef Patrick Hennessy is able to focus a bit more on cooking while Betty Cooper is taking care of the front and the bar. And of course, the dishes come out with much more sophistication than the casual izakaya fare. Despite a couple of less memorable dishes, the team showed some moments of brilliance and the dinner was enjoyable overall.
Making fine dining much more casual is quite the popular concept now, and Barbara has definitely embraced it, giving the eatery the potential to become a trendy spot. However, the intimate space here and the small distance between the staff and the diners would continue to be a challenge. And I am looking forward to seeing chef Patrick pull more tricks out of his sleeves in the future.
$$ – $$$
305 E Pender St, Vancouver, BC V6A 0J3