To my own personal surprise and delight I was invited to a new menu sampling at Prestons. Located within the Coast Coal Harbour Hotel, this restaurant is touted as one that fuses west coast, Asian and Mediterranean cuisine. To be perfectly honest, I had my apprehensions as hotel restaurants have garnered a generally negative reputation. Furthermore, fusion cuisine has always struck me as being, for the most part, less hit and more miss. Far be it for me to judge a book by its cover, I went into this experience with an open mind.
As this was an invitation to a sampling event I will therefore premise this post by stating, for very obvious reasons, that I was not obligated in any way to actually review this restaurant. It is my hope to continue being as impartial a restaurant patron as possible, lest I tarnish the integrity of all the work that has been laid down here in blog posts past. In addition, I usually pride myself in offering a different view on dining experiences. I enjoy adding in a few atmosphere photos or interior/detail shots and commenting about the service to provide readers with a more comprehensive view of a particular restaurant dining experience. You may therefore find that this blog post is uncharacteristically devoid of those photographs as I was (a little embarrassingly) caught up in the social aspect of the event. Semantics aside, let the review begin!
The Prestons menu sampling event was put on by www.gopopcorn.ca, which is a Vancouver and social media based company that focuses on promoting restaurants. If you haven’t heard of them before, it’s okay as their expansion is eminent. All of the stops were pulled out (as well as a red carpet) for all of the privately invited guests. Facebox Media, a photo booth company, made an appearance along with a projector showing all of the tweets from the event hashtagged #dineprestons.
As a side note, #dineprestons ended up trending in Vancouver and then in Canada on twitter, which only speaks to the power of social media.
An open bar kept libations flowing, thereby greasing the proverbial social gears. Bags of swag were provided filled with gift certificates and even bottles of beer from Granville Island Brewery, whose representatives were also on hand providing samples of their various products.
Many of the staffers were out in full force, cordially socializing whilst serving food and drinks. I was personally greeted by three of the managing staffers on completely separated occasions, so it was easy to see that the social aspect of the event played a major role in its inception.
Trying the Lions Winterale actually took me aback as the flavours from it were a good deal more complex that I’m used to with beer. A beer that featured vanilla and rich malt mingling with a hint of sweeter undertones definitely made for an enjoyed experience.
At the open bar I stuck to the Robson Street Hefeweizen on tap as well as the special cocktails of the night, which were a Venetian Spritzer and French Martini. The cocktails were boozy and refreshing.
The bartender seemed a bit young, but that didn’t affect his proficiency as drinks were being served nonstop most of the night. As the bottles of booze started rolling out of the cabinets, I knew that no expense was being spared to make sure patrons were enjoying themselves.
The above photo shows what samples were being provided during the event.
While much of the food was served by waitstaff, there was also a chef attended buffet style area or aptly named “Gyoza Action Station”.
The “action” from the gyoza station came in the form of first steaming and subsequently frying the gyozas before serving them individually in dim sum styled bamboo steamers dressed with a miso vinaigrette.
While the gyozas were fairly large, there was not a lot in the way of filling. Dumplings of this size beg to be stuffed full of tasty ingredients. While it was readily apparent that there was shrimp within each mouthful, there wasn’t anything very exciting about the dish. The miso vinaigrette, while innovative, didn’t make much of a difference flavour wise.
Also making an appearance at the action station were scores of hoisin & ginger glazed pork ribs. Quite succulent and moist, the flesh fell easily away from the bone and the flavours were sweet and subtle. The glaze was finger licking good.
The first slider to exit the kitchen that evening featured an eggplant parmesan. Breaded and deep fried eggplant with stewed red peppers and a feta sauce made for wonderful little morsels that could make almost anyone forget about meat (if only for a moment). I am personally a fan of eggplant or aubergine (which is a lot more fun to say) and that probably helped boost my enjoyment of this dish. The dressing was tangy and in your face, but not terribly so.
Mini dungeness crab cakes started making the rounds before too long. Topped with tomato vinaigrette and a fried caper, the crab cakes were wonderfully executed and each contained a large piece of real crab flesh in the center. That minor detail really went the extra mile as the generous crab flesh was difficult to ignore. That being said, the tomato topping seemed almost superfluous between that crab meat and fried caper. Either way, this was a solid nibble.
A sample sized red Thai chicken curry was served in cocktail glasses. I do enjoy a good coconut curry, especially if there is a good amount of spice and heat associated with it. This particular rendition was not very spicy at all, but the curry was wonderfully flavourful and the tender chicken was moist. The jasmine rice sopped up the curry nicely, although the grains were perhaps just slightly overcooked past perfection. Like the rice, the eggplant and red peppers were a bit overcooked, but that was not necessarily a bad thing as their soften state allowed better incorporation with the rice and sauce. This cupful had me wishing for a full meal sized serving of this dish.
Tomato & bocconcini crostini were a refreshing canape between larger tastes. Crispy crostini spread with an artichoke and basil pesto and topped with mild bocconcini and a half grape tomato made for a nice one bite snack, although the pesto was less apparent than I would have liked.
A mini (and very quaint) Chinese food take out box greeted us next, filled with equally small chicken karrage bites. While the description of “garlic sake marinated chicken, flash fried and served with a spicy lime aioli” sounded complex, the result was just simply “good”. Served over a miso cabbage slaw, this was probably one of the samples I enjoyed the most. The chicken was once again cooked well and the slaw was piquant and well dressed.
Sample sized pulled pork poutine was a bit of a mystery to me. The fries were crisp and tender on the inside, which was quite good, but the gravy and cheese ended up melting together into an amorphous blob. The flavours were there, but it was difficult to tell where gravy and cheese met pulled pork.
Green matcha creme brulee was an interesting twist on an otherwise over featured dessert. Prepared quite nicely, the custard was firm and the sugar on top was glassy. There was just a hint of tea infused throughout to make sure one knew it was there.
The last sample we managed to try that evening was the braised bbq pork slider. This version of the mini burger was right up there with the previous eggplant slider and I thought that the gorgonzola coleslaw added a bit of freshness to it, although I probably would not have been able to pick out that it was gorgonzola from taste alone. In fact, I would go as far as saying that the slaw made even a bigger impact than the pork itself.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Prestons. The food was tasty and served fresh, the social atmosphere was a buzz with introductions mingling with talk of food and drink and the service was warm and friendly. I had mentioned at the outset of this blog post that there is a bit of a negative stigma surrounding hotel dining. Though it may be true in certain instances, Prestons, much like Yew Restaurant & Bar (one of my favourite spots), is certainly putting forth a great effort to break that misconception.
I tweeted something similar to this while at the event, but it still holds true in my mind now: “If prestons can continue to deliver what was brought forth tonight, they’ve really got something going for them”.
My many thanks go to those at Popcorn who were gracious enough to invite me to the event and the managers, staff and chefs of Prestons for providing such a welcoming ambiance.
1177 West Pender Street