When asked about Belgium, most people will associate it with two things: waffles and chocolate. Others may also cite mussels, Stella Artois and Jean-Claude Van Damme . Belgium is a bit of a misunderstood country sandwiched in between the more recognized entities of France, Germany and the Netherlands. It’s no surprise that its culinary influences which include rich saucy foods and hearty stews originate from its neighbours except for Holland…there’s no good food in Holland.
Chambar is a evening hot spot bordering Gastown in Vancouver. Commandeered by well-trained chef Nico Schuermans, one could consider Chambar’s menu an “Amazing Race” of world flavours, complete with fast forwards, detours and road blocks.
Must (Fast Forwards)
As it should, the culinary adventure begins in Belgium with offerings of mussels and over 50 Belgian beer ranging from witbier (wheat) to blondes to darks to trappists to table beer (served in 750 ml bottles) that you drink like wine. At the recommendation of the staff, I ordered the Duchess de Bourgnogne, a deep ruby lambic with intricate flavors synonymous with a fine European wine. My choice was the Boon Gueze, an aggressive but beautiful sour lambic, which paired nicely with the mussels. Speaking of mussels, the Coquotte Moules Frites (pictured below) were mind-blowing. They were meaty and fresh and swimming in a philter of wine and cream with teases of bacon and garnished with fresh green onions.
With due diligence paid to the homeland, Chambar turns its attention to other parts of the globe. The lapin a la moutarde (rabbit cannelloni) pays respect to the French neighbours while fusing with the middle-eastern flavours of dates and pistachios. The filling was decedent and encased in a perfectly cooked pasta which would even make a few Italians nod with approval.
Steak and sausage are staples all over the world. The Chambar’s Grillade be Boeuf and Chorizo adds a Spanish/South American flare to these two carnivorous staples by grilling the sausage and serving the beef seasoned with lime and chili atop a fragrant chimichurri. The fingerling potato chips added an additional earthiness and subtle crunch to the plate.
For dessert, the Mama Rizk goes back to France with a mille feuille pastry with a rosewater twist. It has an french renaissance architecture that I almost didn’t want to tear down. The mint sorbet harmonized the dish from a taste and texture perspective.
The tarte au citron was another French influenced dessert which payed homage to traditional lemon meringue pie. Fluffy coconut cake is the foundation for the the tart lemon curd and souffle accents. As tasty as it was visually appealing, it was a brilliant spin on a classic dish.
Chambar’s next stop is Asia by offering the ubiquitous tartare de thon rouge (tuna tartare), flavoured with wasabi, pickled veggies and served with rice crackers. It was an average dish with decent flavour but can’t compete with others I have had elsewhere.
Chambar goes Canadian next with its rendition of grilled local octopus, seasoned with soy, maple and bacon flavours and topped with fresh kale. The octopus was prepared nicely and the flavours were…well….nice.
Both the Le Nico Fume and Le Cafe Belge were both highly recommended cake by the waitstaff. Both were nicely presented but a bit monotonous in flavour. Le Nico Fume was chocolate scotch cake with caramel and ice cream served in a glass (at least it wasn’t a mason jar). Le Cafe Belge was coffee flavour cheesecake with chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate on top. Both would be a fitting end to a good meal but lacked the edginess I had come to expect based on the offerings earlier in the evening.
Mundane (Road Block)
The thought of sitting on the Pacific coast and enjoying a local, roasted halibut loin swimming in a fragrant broth made my mouth water but I was left a bit confused by the cassoulet de poisson (halibut). Sometimes its better to keep things simple and clean, especially with the availability of a great eating fish like halibut but there were too many competing flavours that ironically “drown” the halibut’s subtle flavour.
From an ambiance perspective, the noise level is off the charts. I equate it to having a window seat near a jet engine so loud you can’t hear the person in the aisle seat beside you. If that’s your scene it works; otherwise it’s quite a distraction.
Chambar is an edgy eatery which lays its foundation in its Belgian roots but experiments with cutting edge international flavours reflected through frequently changing menu items (in fact some of the items reviewed here are no longer available) . A fascinating Belgian beer selection and world class mussels served by knowledgeable waitstaff makes every trip worth it. In a manner similar to the Amazing Race, the plates offer some wonderful scenery, however, this aggressive style is bound to lead to some winners and losers during the noisy travels along the way.
Mulling Moment- Please comment!