WITH AN AMOROUS GLOW, CHAMBAR WILL TAKE YOU AWAY
Located in Crosstown (the ambiguous mid-zone between Chinatown and Yaletown), Chambar's second, remodelled location is right next door to its old dining room. The rebuild was a collaboration between co-owner Karri Schuermans and Carscadden Stokes McDonald Architects. Their design goal was to parallel the reach of the restaurant’s ambitions with "exquisite cuisine, exceptional service, and a room that glows", branding it as "an unpretentious fling with fine dining.”
The architectural team spearheaded large commercial and public projects such as the Nelson Community Centre, Kelowna YMCA, Terrace Arena, Renfrew Community Centre, and one of Vancouver’s favourite watering holes: The Boxcar. They're also behind the addition to the commercial space of 564 Beatty which engulfs Chambar. Speaking to the rejuvenation of the famed restaurant, the architects elucidate: “[t]he results find the elusive blend between classy intimate dining and civilized debauchery which has proven ever more popular against Vancouver’s burgeoning array of restaurants.”
Historically serving as a manufacturing warehouse, Chambar's revamped design juxtaposes rudimentary elements like brick walls, heavy wooden beams, and thinly planked ceilings by layering them with Mediterranean expressions of bright teals, gilded details, and modern textile adaptations. You can find many interior pairings of East and West like the entrance mosaic tiles butted up next to the chevron hardwood floors. Gold shelves suspend from the ceiling, caging wine glasses while modern ribbed pendants hang over the bar. A wooden brise soleil panel grabs your attention when you first enter, then you are quickly struck by Omer Arbel’s Bocci 28 Copper series comprised of blown glass orbs in warm, colourful hues.
The front of house celebrates the Eastern influence in design, but there’s a disconnect in theme as you make way to the back section which resembles an old dining club. This area is an ode to the original Chambar, retaining the theme and reusing the tables and brown leather tufted banquettes. The tone of the dining room offers a traditional fine-dining experience.
In the days of Chambar's former location at 562 Beatty Street (which now houses The Devil's Elbow), there used to be a joke around town that you had to "have an accent" to work at Chambar. The proudly Eastern-influenced restaurant was a place that hinted at an elegance of old-world European style and class—which was an accurate rumour. Stepping into the dimly lit dining room, you felt as though you were suddenly transported either to another continent, or another time.
When the restaurant decided to move next door, Chambar reopened its 568 Beatty Street location with a party hosting everyone from the city's up-for-election-time Mayor to local TV celebrities and media personalities. The night felt surreal: the glow and excitement within the room echoed the nightlife of Madrid, Milan, or Manhattan more so than historically sleepy Vancouver. Chambar championed ambiance and still does to this day.
Service at 562 Chambar was always impeccable. The waiting staff were jovial yet polished; professional and knowledgeable, yet not over-eager or bothersome. This element of the old Chambar experience transferred to the new location for its entire first year. The dining room was filled with Vancouver's most experienced and noted managers, sommeliers, and servers throughout each day.
However, having lived into an era far longer than even their reputation could have predicted, 568 Chambar struggles to keep their best staff. Many of our favourite hosts, servers, and managers moved on, not to new careers, but to new restaurants. During its second year, the new Chambar fell into a slump of hiring uneasy, sometimes unsure staff for their front lounge. Either forgetting about your table entirely, or hovering over your shoulder and refilling your water after every single sip, the inconsistency on the floor verified the inexperience of their younger and younger staff. But Chambar's many years of being open have proved redemptory: guest irritation is always swiftly discerned or absolved by a congenial manager, or impeccably intelligent service the next time you're in.
When the Temporary Foreign Workers Program froze for Europeans, Chambar's owner Karri Schuermans explained, the entire city started to struggle with worker shortage, especially cooks. "Although we continue to have a multicultural staff, we've definitely struggled with service staff since the program froze."
The good news: Chambar's behind-the-bar staff remained impervious to any shifts in service and aura that happened during the 2014 transition and the three years since. Having poached the crème de la crème from across the city, Chambar's roster of bartenders and mixologists were always ahead of the typical tableau of Vancouver restaurants. Keen to chat about their latest feature cocktail, the profusion of Belgian biers, or to help you sort out what terrior of Syrah you prefer (Similkameen Valley, BC or Piedmont, Italy?), Chambar's taverners will keep you informed, satisfied, and—naturally—returning again and again.
Menu wise, Chambar has remained a leader in quality fusion. Widely hailed for their Moroccan Lamb Shank, this age old dish was fine-tuned by Chambar's Executive Chef and Co-owner Nico Schuermans. Schuermans, who was raised in Rwanda, later apprenticed under Moroccan chef Aziz Bakalla in Sydney, Australia after a stint at London's globally-celebrated Savoy and a handful of other Michelin-starred, European kitchens. Served in a traditional Moroccan clay tajine alongside couscous and fig, the lamb quite literally melts off the bone. "Simmered" for 6 hours at 300 degrees (and never boiled), the stew-like lamb shank tastes of rich turmeric with strong hints of cinnamon and coriander.
While reputed for their Ocean Wise® mussels that are rich, soft, and bursting with flavour, the many other menu options, clearly designed with passion and fervor, are hard to pass by. Each dish offers hints of global flavours that are typically hard to find in Vancouver, while still remaining in a respectful relationship with the environment. Although heavy on seafood, Chambar offers a handful of options for herbivores. Equally as decadent, rich in flavour, and elevated from your typical greens, palate gratifiers like carrot hummus, creamy endives, sautéed shishito peppers, crisp yet buoyant cauliflower, and paper-thin sliced watermelon radish can be found adding a wonderful vibrancy to the table.
Needless to say, Chambar's well-travelled Belgian chef and the award-winning team behind him have successfully weaved Western African valiance with Western European rigor: a menu much deserving of its ceaseless praise.
A version of this article originally appeared in HAZEL NOIX on August 13th, 2017.