Thursday, 1 August 2013

CANADA: VANCOUVER IS SIMPLY VANTASTIC

The immigration officer at Vancouver airport asked the purpose of my visit. I told her I’m a journalist. “Awesome!” she said. “Are you going to write nice things about our city?” I said yes, of course (which was true, but it could’ve been a trick question). She then asked if I’d brought a notebook, and again I said yes. “Good,” she said, stamping my passport and flashing me a Colgate smile. “And if you take my advice, buy a spare, because you’re going to need it.” She was right.

WHALE MEET AGAIN: A child meets one of the beluga
whales at the amazing Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park
If Chicago hadn’t claimed the title first, Vancouver could justifiably call itself the Windy City, because it blew me away. However, Canada’s third-biggest metropolis, which is home to 2.25 million people — I wish I was one of them — is known as the City of Glass, which appropriately rhymes with class, because that’s what it oozes.
The name comes from the modern skyscrapers that mirror the equally elegant but older buildings on their gleaming facades. I tried to take a picture of the Fairmont Vancouver Hotel — the most elegant of them all — which was opened by Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother, in 1939 and where I stayed a couple of nights, but too many maple trees were in the way. Giving up, I turned round, and there reflected on the office block opposite was the image I wanted, shimmering in the 26C early-May heat.

SHIMMERTIME: And the living
is easy, at the fabulous Fairmont
Hotel Vancouver, reflected on
this office building
The 556-room Fairmont is reputedly haunted by the Red Lady, but after the nine-hour flight from London there wasn’t a ghost of a chance that I’d have heard her if she’d stood at the foot of my bed banging a tin drum and blowing a bugle. Without binoculars, I wouldn’t have seen her either — the bed was as big as the swimming pool downstairs, and my suite so enormous I nearly phoned a taxi to go to the bathroom.
Among the ‘staff’ are two retired guide dogs stationed at reception that are on-call round the clock in case any guest missing the pet they’ve left at home fancies going out for walkies. A lady who had stayed at the city centre Fairmont with her family wrote a thank-you letter saying that her young son, who had always been wary of anything bigger than a Chihuahua, overcame his fear after getting to know canine ambassadors Mavis and Beau and had the legs walked off of them.
VALET BARKING: Fairmont Hotel Vancouver's
canine ambassadors Mavis and Beau and,
below, a seaplane heads for North Vancouver


While it’s easy to lose your bearings while out walking — with or without a dog — it’s easier still to find them again because the mountains are to the north. So, if you face the snow-capped peaks across the Burrard Inlet, west is to your left, east is to your right and, by a cunning process of elimination, south is at your back.
Having the sun on my back for the first time this year was an unexpected delight. Sunbathing in Vancouver usually begins in July — unpredictable June is nicknamed June-uary — but I was there during an unseasonably hot week. The city gets an average of 116cm of rain a year, which didn’t mean much to me until I looked up Dublin, which gets 77cm, so that’s a good indication of just how wet it can get. The running joke among Vancouverites is that if you see someone looking bronzed it’s not a tan, it’s rust.
The movie industry loves Vancouver (and its tax breaks), and has used it as a stand-in for many other North American cities. Rain invariably interrupts filming, which is why the Hollywood crowd call Vancouver Brollywood. Some of the better-known movies shot there include Elf (Will Ferrell), Gods and Monsters (Ian McKellen), Night at the Museum (Ben Stiller) and Timecop (Jean Claude Van Damp. I mean, Van Damme).

CLOTHES ENCOUNTER: I try to make
friends with Aurora the beluga whale
When it’s hot, the 988-acre Stanley Park is the perfect place to cool off, especially if you get an up-close encounter with one of the two all-white beluga whales in the Vancouver Aquarium (www.vanaqua.org). Four years ago in Orlando’s Discovery Cove, which I’ve written about elsewhere on this blog, Akai the dolphin spat in my face. When I went back 18 months later, he remembered me and spat in my face again. Surely Aurora the beluga would have more manners?
Nope. As I stood fully-clothed by the poolside stroking her head — it felt like a hard boiled egg — she squirted me from head to toe with a huge mouthful of water, much to the delight of the giggling gang of schoolchildren who were watching and thought it was the funniest thing ever. There’s a lot to be said for bringing back the cane.

WATER CHEEK: Aurora soaks me from
head to toe and, below, one of the cute
sea otters at Vancouver Aquarium

The Aquarium, one of the biggest and best in North America and renowned for its admirable rescue and conservation programmes, is home to 70,000 creatures from the Arctic to the Amazon. These include eye-poppingly beautiful (and pop-eyed) tropical fish plus sharks, dolphins, porpoises, seals, turtles and penguins, and those playful show-offs, the sea otters — a huge hit with the kids — that were clearly at the front of the queue when cuteness was being handed out.
After that drenching from Aurora, it took only 15 minutes of strolling in the sun before my clothes were dry again. I arrived full of forgiveness — and maple syrup-flavoured candy floss from a kiosk that was doing brisk business — at Stanley Park’s colourful First Nations totem poles.
The First Nations peoples had been settled in the coastal areas of Vancouver for some 10,000 years when English sea captain George Vancouver sailed into the inner harbour of Burrard Inlet in 1792 and liked what he saw. European settlers soon followed, bringing with them European ways and European diseases. Smallpox, which was previously unknown to the indigenous communities, was catastrophic, and within a relatively short period it had killed more than 90 per cent of the 10,000 or so First Nations peoples.

POLE-LAND: Some of the colourful First
Nations totem poles in Stanley Park
These original Vancouverites had for millennia enjoyed nature’s bounties: rot-resistant timber from the dense cedar forests provided their primary building material, while from the rivers and sea came an endless supply of shellfish, herring and salmon (this last was so abundant that it was used as a form of currency). Salmon exports were a mainstay of the local economy at the end of the 19th century — by 1900, the city’s biggest cannery, Steveston, was shipping out seven million kilos a year and struggling to keep up with worldwide demand.
Nowadays it’s the salmon that are struggling, with stocks dwindling, though great efforts are being made to redress the decline at the Capilano Salmon Hatchery on the river of the same name in North Vancouver, which is open to visitors. Around two million coho and chinook salmon (that’s where the twin-rotor helicopter gets its name) are hatched there each year and released into the river, from where they make their way into open waters. Adult salmon return en masse to the Capilano to spawn, which is quite a sight as they turn the river into a bubbling cauldron. It’s a spectacle that doesn’t go unnoticed by the squadrons of dive-bombing eagles that feast on their easy prey which are packed as tight as, well, sardines in a tin.

FIN ART: Giant salmon sculpture at the Aquarium 
The First Nations peoples who survived the arrival of smallpox weren’t treated well by those early settlers, nor by those who followed, giddy at the sight of so many natural resources there for the taking. Countless incomers grew rich as the First Nations peoples’ way of life was suppressed. Tribes were forcibly assimilated into British-Canadian culture; following World War II, native children were put into residential schools where their language was neither spoken nor mentioned.
Attitudes began to change in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 2008 when Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology to all First Nations tribes for generations of neglect and abuse, especially in those schools, that a corner was turned. The road to recovery will be a long one, but it leads in only one direction, and that’s forward to a more enlightened future.

TAN-COUVER: When the sun shines,
everyone heads for the beach or, below,
they might play cricket in Stanley park


Near the totem poles, most of which were carved in the 1980s as replacements for the centuries-old originals that were installed in the 1920s, a game of cricket was in full swing. Black squirrels — not grey or red — foraged beneath the towering Douglas firs, a species first documented on Vancouver Island in 1791 by Scottish physician Archibald Menzies, though named after his great rival and countryman, the botanist David Douglas. A girl on rollerblades was being pulled along the pathway by a huge dog on a lead. Joggers, cyclists and picnickers were everywhere. And the beaches, all 18km of them, were chock-a-sunblock, said the TV news at six — the only time of day when screens weren’t showing ice hockey, the national sport.
When I say sport, it’s actually more like a riot with rules applied by referees — armed, I suspect, with Tasers — who wear chainmail under their striped shirts and spend an inordinate proportion of each game breaking up fights. There are apparently two objectives: a) get the puck into the back of the net after b) breaking the ribs of your opponents by shunting them at high speed into the perspex screens that separate the spectators from the gladiators. Imagine one of those battle scenes from the Lord of the Rings movies, but with the combatants wielding sticks instead of axes, and you’ll have a pretty accurate, though not pretty, picture of ice hockey.

STICK AT IT: Everyone in Vancouver is mad
about ice hockey, the Canadian national sport
Stanley Park, which was opened in 1888 and named after the Governor-General of Canada, Lord Stanley of Preston, attracts eight million visitors each year and is home to half-a-million trees, many of them hundreds of years old and up to 75 metres tall. Among the smaller residents are coyotes, raccoons, skunks and thousands of those black squirrels that are descended from eight breeding pairs that were gifted in 1909 by the guardians of New York’s Central Park.
Vancouver is the fourth most-densely populated city in North America after New York, San Francisco and Mexico City, but there’s room for everyone, which is evident in its cultural diversity. The biggest ethnic group is the Chinese, and just over half the citizens speak a first language other than English.
I went for a walk in Chinatown with born-and-bred Vancouverite Winston Wong, one of the team of knowledgeable guides who work with ToursByLocals (www.toursbylocals.com). The company was established in Vancouver in November 2008 and, like most good ideas, it quickly took off. Today it provides 1,500 guides in 123 countries and attracts glowing online reviews — 90 per cent of customers rate their private tour experience as 5-star. I soon found out why. Winston is a 5-star guide and a 5-star guy and a great ambassador for his city, which he was proud to show me around.

FRAME-OUS ATTRACTION: Dr. Sun Yat-Sen
Garden in Chinatown, below, is a peaceful haven


Chinatown’s shops and restaurants will have your senses working overtime, but be mindful of your schedule — the neighbourhood is easy to locate but hard to leave, especially when shopkeepers insist on sitting you down and giving you free tea and sweet and savoury buns.
The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden is a haven of tranquillity. Created in the mid-1980s by artisans from China’s garden city, Suzhou, it’s one of only two classical Chinese gardens in North America (the other is in Portland, Oregon). It’s beautiful and, I thought, a great place for a quick siesta, but no — Winston had other ideas.

PEAK-A-BREW: With the North Vancouver mountains in
the background, a cruise ship passes under the Lions Gate
Bridge, which was financed by the Guinness brewing family
While Vancouver’s Asian presence is huge, the Irish presence is humongous — it’s 1,823 metres long and 111 metres high and is called the Lions Gate Bridge. It’s painted emerald green, it links North Vancouver where the billionaires live and South Vancouver (for mere millionaires) and was financed by the Guinness family, who in the early 1900s had acquired most of the land in the foothills of Hollyburn Mountain on the North Shore. The bridge took only 18 months to build, at a cost of $5.87 million, and opened to traffic in 1938. The following year, Queen Elizabeth and King George VI officially opened it as a favour to their brewer buddies.
In 1955, the Guinnesses sold it to the province of British Columbia for $5.96 million, a little over what it had cost to put up. But their involvement didn’t end there. In 1986, when Vancouver hosted the World Fair, they picked up the bill to have the bridge illuminated, turning it into a twinkling night-time landmark.
Go to Prospect Point at the south end of Stanley Park for the best view of the bridge and the best photo opp in all of Vancouver — if you time your visit right, a cruise liner will be passing underneath. Winston timed our visit to perfection.

SOLAR PLOUGHER: Daniel Thompson uses
the sun and a magnifying glass to etch on wood
Street artists are great. Not necessarily great artists, but I like them. I especially liked the talented Daniel Thompson. He was sitting astride a bench near the Gastown branch of the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant, bent over a thin sheet of plywood resting on his knees. Little whiffs of smoke were whirling around his head. From 30 feet it looked like he was puffing on a cigarette while rolling another, but from 10-feet all was revealed.
He wore welder’s goggles, held a magnifying glass in his right hand and was directing a super-charged ray of mid-afternoon sunlight on to the plywood. He’d been there for hours, and was burning a figurative maple leaf that contained all sorts of drawings within drawings which was at once intricate and impressive. Even more impressive was the decoration on the back of his mustard-coloured leather jacket, which he’d executed using the same time-consuming and weather-dependent method. I asked him what he did on overcast or rainy days when he had no sun to carry on the family business. Daft question — he goes around selling what he’s already created. 
HOT COUTURE: Daniel's leather
jacket, which he decorated with
his magnifying glass and, below,
Gastown's Steam Clock


Historic Gastown is Vancouver’s birthplace and retains much of its gritty Victorian charm, though its most photographed feature, the curious four-faced Steam Clock, is a 1977 creation based on a design dating from 100 years earlier. Located at the intersection of Water and Cambie Streets, it was built by horologist Raymond Saunders, and the $60,000 cost was covered by donations from local businesses.
Gastown, reconstructed in brick following a devastating fire in 1886 that reduced all of the original wooden buildings to ashes, is named after saloon keeper ‘Gassy’ Jack Deighton. I asked Winston if Jack had been a martyr to methane, because I know from having seen Blazing Saddles that everyone back then ate nothing but beans. But no: he got the prefix from the fact that the only time he stopped ‘gassing’ on about this, that and the other was when he was asleep.
Folklore has it that Jack, whose statue stands close to the Steam Clock, persuaded timber mill workers to build him a saloon in return for all the whiskey they could drink. There’s no record of how long it took them to complete the job, but if they had any sense they’d have dragged it out for as long as possible; nor are there any pictures of the saloon, but it must have looked as drunk as the gang of wasted woodworkers who threw it together.
Gastown today is a cobblestoned community of bars, restaurants, art galleries, antique shops, hip (and some hippy) boutiques, buskers, boozers and, on its fringes, down-and-outs and druggies. This is the place to buy the best souvenirs of your visit to Vancouver, rather than the mass-produced stuff available everywhere. While most of the mementoes in the Gastown shops and galleries that specialise in First Nations art are copies of or in-the-style-of, at least they’re handmade and not plastic-moulded.

JACK'S HIGH: Statue of 'Gassy' Jack Deighton in Gastown
Before I reluctantly left Vancouver — which has just been voted best destination in Canada for the 10th year in a row by US travel trade publication Travel Weekly — I had coffee in Thierry Chocolaterie and Patisserie (1059 Alberni Street) with Sonu Purhar from the tourist board. I asked her to sum up her home city in just a few words, which was all I had space for in my spare notebook. Sonu thought for a moment, and then said it was chic, stylish, sophisticated, laid-back and arty without the farty. I couldn’t have put it better myself. Actually, I could, which is why I stopped short of giving her full marks — she forgot to say it’s also Vantastic.

SEASCRAPE: Vancouver's skyscrapers as
seen from the waterside in Stanley Park

GETTING THERE
I travelled to Vancouver with American Holidays, who offer five nights at the 3-star Sandman Vancouver City Centre from €799 per person sharing, based on two sharing. The price includes return flights from Dublin via London and taxes and is valid for travel in October and November. Upgrade to five nights at a 5-star waterfront hotel for €158 per person. Call American Holidays in Dublin on 01 673 3840, Cork on 021 236 4636 or Belfast on 02890 511855 or see www.americanholidays.com

TRANSFER
The Canada Line Skytrain links Vancouver International Airport with the city (26 minutes, tickets from machines using card/cash), with stops at Yaletown, City Centre (Downtown) and Waterfront (SeaBus Terminal/cruise liner terminal).
Aeroshuttle airport shuttle buses serve the domestic and international terminals and operate to and from the city on two loops (60 to 75 minutes, tickets from driver using card/cash) with selected hotel drop-off and pick-up. See www.aeroshuttleyvr.ca
The average taxi fare from the airport to a Downtown hotel is $35 to $40 plus tip.

SUITE DREAMS: Bedroom in Fairmont Hotel Vancouver
STAY
Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, 900 West Georgia Street. The ‘Grand Old Lady’ is posh to start with, but if you’re feeling particularly plush you can opt for the exceptional service and facilities of Fairmont Gold a “hotel within a hotel” with its private reception desk and concierge service and enormous suites as described above. European-style breakfast is served in the Fairmont Gold Lounge (proper dress, thank you), and there are complimentary hors d’oeuvres every evening; the honesty bar includes champagne and some rarely-seen single malt Scotch whiskies (they’re even rarer now after my visit); and there’s complimentary access to the health club and pool. Concierge Rejean Cliche was on duty when I was there, and proved to be THE guy to go to for recommendations on where to eat and drink. Rejean, like every member of staff I spoke with, clearly loves working at the Fairmont Vancouver, which made my stay all the more enjoyable when the team exude that feel-good vibe, you know you’re on a winner. (www.fairmont.com/hotelvancouver)

HOUSE ABOUT THIS? Quaint lounge in West
End Guest House is furnished with antiques
West End Guest House, 1362 Haro Street. This heritage residence, built in 1906, is decorated throughout with early 20th century antiques and the walls are adorned with fascinating photos of old Vancouver and its citizens collected by the original owners. It’s quaint and comfortable and, being small — only seven rooms — owner Evan Penner and his partner Ron Cadarette are able to pamper their guests. Breakfast is an enjoyable communal affair at the long dining table where guests can swap recommendations on what to see and where to eat, and help-yourself cold and hot drinks and muffins are available 24/7 from the kitchen. A nice touch is the sherry and iced tea served each evening on the terrace or, in winter, indoors. If you fancy doing a bit of cycling, a couple of bikes are available to borrow. When I’m next in Vancouver, this is where I’ll be staying — I can’t recommend this guest house highly enough, it’s fabulous. (www.westendguesthouse.com)

FAN-CY: Bedroom in West End Guest House
SEE and DO
FlyOver Canada, Canada Place (by the cruise liner terminal). Vancouver’s new high-tech visitor attraction opened in June, so I didn’t get to experience it, but my spies have been filling me in on what I’m missing. The $16 million ride, which was three years in the making, gives passengers a swooping, sweeping, ducking and diving bird’s eye view of Canada’s most spectacular sights on a 20-metre-wide spherical screen accompanied by 4D elements. Among the many highlights of the 30-minute, 6,000km journey across the country from east to west — I’m told it’s like being in a supersonic helicopter — is soaring over roaring Niagara Falls. (www.flyovercanada.com).
Vancouver Art Gallery, 750 Hornby Street. Built as a courthouse, converted to a world-renowned innovative gallery, it has a permanent display of more than 9,000 pieces including the world’s foremost collection of Emily Carr paintings and some fabulous British Columbian artwork. Here’s a revelation that will probably get me lynched the gallery’s cafe-cum-restaurant, which the regulars try to keep secret, is out of this world. (www.vanartgallery.bc.ca)

JUDGE FOR YOURSELF: Vancouver Art Gallery
occupies an old courthouse and has a great cafe
Museum of Anthropology, 6393 NW Marine Drive. Oh boy, this place is special. Even those who are not in to museums will love stepping into this one, which houses 600,000 archaeological and ethnological pieces from all over the world, but with a special emphasis on the First Nations peoples. A most definite must-see. (www.moa.ubc.ca)
Ice hockey. Rogers Arena, at 800 Griffiths Way, is home to National Hockey League side the Vancouver Canucks. Tickets are very hard to come by, but some individual seats are available for each home game. You’ve a much better chance of seeing minor league side the Vancouver Giants play at the Pacific Coliseum at 100 North Renfrew Street. (www.canucks.com, www.vancouvergiants.com, www.ticketmaster.ca)
Vancouver Lookout, 555 West Hastings Street. Opened in 1977 by first man on the moon Neil Armstrong, this is the most popular spot from which to see all of Vancouver. The glassed-in observation deck is 168 metres above the ground and provides 360-degree views of the city. (www.vancouverlookout.com)

HIGH GUYS: Do you have the head for heights
to cross the Capilano Suspension Bridge?
Capilano Suspension Bridge, 3735 Capilano Road, North Vancouver (buses 236 or 246 from Lonsdale Quay). It’s 137 metres long, hangs from two skinny steel cables 70 metres above the Capilano River, and it’s been swaying and bouncing since the first visitors set their trembling feet on it in 1889. Dare you? Ah, go on — it might be scary, but the views are spectacular. While you’re there, you might as well venture on to the Cliffhanger, a series of suspended walkways, some of them made of (mercifully-thick) glass. There’s also the Treetops Adventure, which involves walkways and bridges 30 metres up among the trees. Great fun altogether, but not for the faint-hearted. (www.capbridge.com)

THAT'S THE SPIRIT: Locally-made sake in the
Shuraku Sake Bar & Bistro 
VANCOUVER FOODIE TOURS
The best way to discover the remarkable range of world cuisines on offer throughout Vancouver is to join a gastro walking tour and sample a bit of everything. Michelle Ng’s Vancouver Foodie Tours (www.foodietours.ca) was recommended to me, and my luck was in when I rolled up for a Guilty Pleasures Gourmet Tour and discovered that the guide for the afternoon was Andrew Louie (Rejean at the Fairmont had given him star billing). With Andrew leading the way, myself and two Californian ladies who were joining an Alaskan cruise the next day were treated to visits to the following five establishments.
Kirin Restaurant, 1172 Alberni Street. Awarded ‘Best Dim Sum’ title for the past six years in a row, and rightly so. (www.kirinrestaurants.com)
Sutton Place Wine Merchant, 855 Burrard Street. Wine shop with best selection of boutique British Columbia wines. (www.suttonplacewinemerchants.com)
Hubbub Sandwich Bliss, 859 Hornby Street. Vancouver’s top gourmet sandwich joint. (www.hubbubsandwiches.com)
Shuraku Sake Bar & Bistro, 833 Granville Street. Award-winning Japanese izakaya with the best selection of (locally-made) sake in the city. (www.shuraku.net)
Bella Gelateria, 1001 West Cordova Street. Owned and run by world champion gelato-maker James Coleridge, who beat the Italians at their own game at the Florence Gelato Festival last year. He’s also a world champion chatterbox. (www.bellagelateria.com)

STIR ATTRACTION: World champion gelato
maker James Coleridge in Bella Gelateria
GRANVILLE ISLAND CULINARY TOUR
Chef Rohan D’souza leads guests through the food market on Granville Island, which is several times the size of Cork’s renowned English Market and every bit as good. He introduces you to cheesemongers, fishmongers, coffee-mixers and grinders and purveyors of every type of tea imaginable; there’s a guy who makes and sells sensational salsa that is kosher, halal, vegan and gluten-free; you’ll meet butchers, bakers and doughnut-makers. Animal, vegetable or mineral, it’s sitting on a shelf, on ice or swimming around in a tank trying to avoid your eye. Fancy a smoked pig ear? They’re $2.49 each. There’s also a lady, an anti-caffeine campaigner, who chastises customers queuing for coffee and those serving it, which is great entertainment — until she latches on to you.
Best by far, though, is ChocolaTas, the Belgian chocolaterie right in the centre of the market. Chocoholics will think they’ve died and gone to heaven. (www.granvilleisland.com, email rohanmd101@gmail.com)

CHOC TO THE SYSTEM: James
Haupt with chocolate-dipped
strawberries from ChocolaTas
and, below, smoked pig ears


RESTAURANTS
C Restaurant, 2-1600 Howe Street. Vancouver’s most-progressive seafood restaurant and founding partner of Vancouver Aquarium’s sustainably-focused Ocean Wise programme. Everything on the menu is bought that day from local fishermen, so it’s as fresh as fresh can be. The waterfront location, opposite Granville Island, is a delight, as is everything else about this top-notch restaurant which was my favourite by far, and then some — so much so that I was the last to leave, and got to admire some fancy brushwork as the staff swept up around my terrace table. One word sums up C, and it starts with p, for perfect. Don’t depart Vancouver without having lunch or dinner here — I can’t imagine I’ll ever again eat in a place quite so amazing. (www.crestaurant.com)

ONE SHELL OF A PLACE: Oysters in C, my
new all-time favourite restaurant
Old Spaghetti Factory, 53 Water Street, Gastown. Not content with having one resident ghost, this place has four, which is just plain greedy. This is one of those restaurants that locals return to again and again, and with good reason. Everything on the menu is made fresh each day on the premises, and all entrees come with a green salad, sourdough bread, coffee or tea and spumoni ice cream at no additional charge. Probably the best-value dining experience in Vancouver. As for the ghosts, the best-known is a tram conductor who frequents the old trolley car, No 53, that’s parked inside the restaurant and contains tables, so have your tickets ready. (www.oldspaghettifactory.ca)
The Irish Heather, 210 Carrall Street, Gastown. An Irish gastro pub with chatty Irish staff, and not one butcher’s bike to be seen. Who needs walls and ceilings festooned with a container-load of paddywhackery when your reputation is built on great food and perfect pints? A real gem of a place. (www.irishheather.com)

BOARD MEATING: A small selection of what's
on offer at the Salt Tasting Room
Salt Tasting Room, 45 Blood Alley, Gastown. Hidden down the alleyway opposite The Irish Heather, this is a wine and charcuterie room with exposed brick walls and a long share table. Choose from the ever-changing chalkboard that features a huge range of cheeses and cured meats. If you like sherry, they have 17 varieties. Why, I don’t know, but they have. (www.salttastingroom.com)
Gotham Steakhouse, 615 Seymour Street. Housed in one of Vancouver’s few remaining art deco buildings, this is widely-recognised as serving the city’s best steaks. The house speciality is bone-in rib eye Chicago-style with garlic shrimp. (www.gothamsteakhouse.com)
Miku Restaurant, 70-200 Granville Street. Lovers of Japanese cuisine flock to this place. The most popular dishes are flame-seared sushi, Aburi salmon oshi sushi, which is easier to eat than it is to say, tofu salad and the best green tea ice cream in town. (www.mikurestaurant.com)
Vij’s, 1480 West 11th Avenue. Indian cuisine at its finest and most inventive — regulars rave about the tamarind-marinated steak. This is a busy place, so arrive early (dinner served from 5.30pm). (www.vijsrestaurant.ca)

MUSSEL POWER: Tuesday is mussels day at
the Twisted Fork Bistro
Twisted Fork Bistro, 1147 Granville Street. Every day’s a good day to visit, but the always-busy Mussel Tuesdays ($8 a pound with frites) at the Twisted Fork are special and a great opportunity to chat with locals. No reservations, be there at 5.30pm. (www.twistedforkbistro.ca)
Cincin Ristorante and Bar, 1154 Robson Street. Italian-inspired cuisine from an ingredient-driven menu featuring the best produce from local farms, ranches and the sea. (www.cincin.net)
Blue Water Cafe, 1095 Hamilton Street. Will soon have more awards than tables at the rate it’s going. Seafood is king here, and the sushi and raw bar are superlative. (www.bluewatercafe.net)
Raincity Grill, 1193 Denman Street. Pioneer of the “100-mile menu” that showcases seafood and meats from within that radius. Fab food and fab views of English Bay. (www.raincitygrill.com)
Uva Wine Bar, 900 Seymour Street. Vancouver Magazine’s best bar/lounge 2010, it’s styled on an Italian enoteca and serves wonderful charcuterie and artisan cheeses — plus, of course, a huge selection of wines. Trendy without being pretentious. (www.uvawinebar.ca)
Vegetarian. Three of the most popular vegetarian restaurants, despite being relative newcomers to the scene, are Heirloom, 1509 West 12th Avenue (www.facebook.com/heirloomveg); The Parker, 237 Union Street, Chinatown, (www.theparkervancouver.com); and The Acorn, 3995 Main Street, (www.theacornrestaurant.ca).

YUM AND GET IT: Vancouverites can't get enough
of the fare on offer from the city's food trucks


FOOD TRUCKS
Alfresco international fare — and hotdogs — is available from dozens of food trucks in strategic locations throughout Vancouver. So popular is this way of filling up, especially among office workers at lunchtime, that there’s an app to help you find the nearest truck (Free Vancouver Street Food App). Among the best are:
Mom’s Grilled Cheese, corner of Howe and West Georgia Streets, serving gourmet grilled cheese and roasted tomato soup. (www.momsgrilledcheesetruck.com)
Feastro Rolling Bistro, corner of West Cordova and Thurlow Streets, for fish and chips and succulent prawns. (www.feastro.ca)
Ru-Up BBQ, 700 Hornby Street, famed for its southern-style pulled-pork sandwiches. (www.reupbbq.com)

FURTHER INFORMATION
For more information on Vancouver and British Columbia, see www.tourismvancouver.com and www.britishcolumbia.travel


AND SO TO SLEEP: False Creek, at the end of another
perfect day in vantastic Vancouver