Wildebeest is not for the faint of heart.
Located at 120 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, B.C.
Wildebeest started with co-owners James Iranzad and Josh Pape’s mutual love for good food and drink, and developed into Gastown’s newest trendy restaurant with a concept. Organic ingredients, using whole animals, and sharing plates. “Everything feels so honest,” said Pape about the menu. There are no real boundaries in terms of the direction the restaurant will take, he said. The genius behind the menu is executive chef David Gunawan, whose hand-picked kitchen staff have all worked with Gunawan and each other before.
A friend and I went in on a Wednesday night at 7:30 with no reservations, and the trendy interior was packed. Faced with the option of waiting until 9:30 for a table to open up, we were instead seated at a communal table with another party. Take note that it is only open in the evenings (from 5 p.m. onwards), and is closed on Mondays.
All the servers are very helpful and knowledgeable about the food and drink they serve; they were able to answer every question in immaculate detail, down to the specific details and intricacies of preparation.
There is a huge selection of unique cocktails and an extensive wine list. In fact, the downstairs is a wine bar, which is currently open only at certain times on weekends. Both are pretty pricey. Drinks are by no means a small part of the concept though, so they are worth trying out.
Skip the crispy pork skin. At $4, it’s not a huge gamble, but it’s also not particularly worth it; they were basically pork-flavoured chips. In fact, don’t waste time with any of the appetizer options (various olives, breads, oyster, and ham plates). The prices are mid-range (mostly hovering around $15), but it is the quality and richness that you’re paying for, not the portion sizes.
The fois gras (duck liver) torchon was served with three tiny pieces of black brioche (not enough to accommodate the rich fois gras). At $18, I was a little taken aback at how little we got — until I tasted it. It was amazing, and so rich that there’s no way I could have eaten any more. Next we got the lamb tartare ($14), which was served with pickled wild onions and herb croutons. It is served with grilled lamb heart, adding to the tartare’s raw texture. This dish was as good as the last, though less rich; I could have gone with a little more.
This might be a good time to warn you: if you’re not in the mood to eat meat, or you’re not willing to experiment, this is not the place for you.
Highlights of our meal included the honey-cured steelhead trout and the beef tongue (make sure to eat every bite with the mushroom marmalade it’s served with). As an impulsive and masochistic afterthought (both for my wallet and my stomach), we ordered the pork jowl (served with oats and bourbon maple syrup). I never thought I’d find comfort food at a place where portions are smaller than the palm of my hand, but there it is, folks. This meat literally melts in your mouth.
Because I don’t really care about my arteries, we also got dessert: dark chocolate sorbet, served with honeycomb and cherries. It’s worth it.
Wildebeest is not cheap by any means, nor is it a hefty meal. However, the food is delectable and you won’t regret a single bite — until you get the bill, probably. That said, it is significantly cheaper than most places where you would get fare of the likes of fois gras and tartare. Wildebeest is just trendy and daring enough that it has a lot of potential to make it big with the Vancouver crowd it caters to. Keep your eyes out for this gem if you ever want to splurge on a night out — it can only get less affordable from here.