Since opening in 2011, Hawksworth Restaurant in the refurbished Hotel Georgia has generated plenty of buzz in Vancouver. The upscale eatery cleaned up at the 2012 Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards, taking home honors for Restaurant of the Year and Chef of the Year, among others. It seems to be the rare restaurant in Vancouver that everyone – from your mother-in-law to the food critic at the Sun – raves about.
But with all the build up, can it really be that good?
I checked out Hawksworth over the weekend, on a busy Friday night. The first big surprise: the ambiance. Diners expecting sedate and stuffy, with silver-haired couples sitting stiffly at white-linened tables, will be disappointed. The entrance bar and lounge to Hawksworth is almost as lively as a pub. A series of archways leads to two small dining rooms, where the dress code runs the from gamut from jeans and t-shirts to evening gowns. The crowd is definitely mixed: young and old, Vancouverites and out-of-towners.
The room itself is sleek – sophisticated without being over the top. Colors are monochrome: beige walls, beige leather chairs and a big beige banquette along one wall. There’s a big chandelier-type light installation (a little bit of opulence can’t hurt) and a glass wall of wine bottles on one side. Servers are brisk and professional without ever crossing the line to condescending, as is sometimes the case in trending Vancouver eateries. In fact, they seem genuinely glad to serve and are quick with suggestions.
But how about the food? The menu is contemporary Canadian, with an emphasis on familiar staples of the West Coast diet – plenty of fresh fish, locally raised meats and produce sourced from throughout the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley. The hallmarks of fine dining are all here, from foie gras parfait to roasted lamb loin and dry-aged rib eye. I started off with some exquisite prosciutto di parma, aged for 18 months and served with smoked burrata cheese.
Refreshingly, Hawksworth isn’t afraid to embrace foods from the other side of the dining spectrum, as well. I had the buttermilk fried chicken with collared greens – a dish more associated with home cookin’ in the American South than fine dining in the Canadian North. The chicken, from Maple Hills Farm, was the hit of the night: juicy and flavorful, complemented by a sweet and sour vinaigrette that lent a fusion flair.
The entire menu is in a constant flux to reflect the best seasonal offerings, though standbys like the tuna ceviche and Canadian strip loin are featured year round. There’s also a six-course seasonal tasting menu ($78), if you’d like to really go all out. It covers all the bases, from kusshi oysters to seared albacore tuna, glazed duck confit and angus beef tenderloin.
Dessert took the form of six multicolored macarons – a clear nod to the macaron craze currently sweeping Vancouver. Overall, Hawksworth – even with all the hype and acclaim – was still a very pleasant surprise. It fills an overlooked niche in Vancouver dining. The food, service and setting are exceptional; yet there’s none of the stilted stuffiness or pretense that sometimes plagues fine dining in the city. As a diner, you feel at once privileged to be there and that you belong.
Anyone else dined at Hawksworth lately? What did you think? Let us know below.