Recently, a family member was celebrating a Birthday and wanted to go somewhere in the City for a good dinner. What’s important to know about this family member is he lives on the Sunshine Coast, loves cooking, good deals and hates pretentiousness. So, to find a good place for him to eat in the City can be difficult. When he mentioned The Mackenzie Room I was a bit surprised since I hadn’t yet heard of this restaurant yet. This happens in Vancouver, a lot. I’m thinking that those that find the hidden gems tend to keep it to themselves so they don’t have to compete with other patrons to get a good seat to eat – they SAVE the juicy secret to themselves, and I don’t blame them. Vancouver is a cornucopia of good food, but the REALLY good ones are hard to find or too hard to get into because they almost always have a line up.
When I researched this ‘new to me’ restaurant I was immediately interested. Their website is simple, but inviting. They used words like Pride, Local, Fun, Engaging – all the words that pop out to me when it comes to a business to pay attention to. I was excited to try them out….BUT it was a Saturday morning and we needed a reservation for Saturday evening….eee gads…I needed a miracle. And funny enough, a miracle is what I got! Through their online reservations service for ‘a table tonight’ they had one high top table available for 6 people. We had a party of five, and although the reservation time was a bit late for us since the birthday boy was catching an 8pm show at the Cultch, I booked it anyway. The birthday boy was thrilled – and when I asked him more about this place he said that it came HIGHLY recommended by someone he trusted and admired, and someone who didn’t just recommend a restaurant lightly. Now I was getting very intrigued. What could this place POSSIBLY offer that I hadn’t seen before just re-done and re-packaged?
Well – I found out.
Arriving at this location already knocks the word ‘pretentious’ out of the whole experience. IT’s located downtown across from Oppenheimer Park on Powell St.. It’s not situated in the ‘glitsy’ part of town. In fact, it’s located in the very REAL part of town. I always admire businesses that don’t buy into surface and shallow ideals and just do their work. The table we had was perfect, located right at the front window and somewhat separated from the rest of the room. The room is not big, so I can see why they are booked up almost every night and why getting a spot here is like winning the lottery. Although, that being said, there were some walk-ins while we were there, and the restaurant hosts put them up at the bar and they did eventually get tables. So, it’s not impossible. Reservations are still recommended though so you don’t have to worry about wait times. And, aim to reserve at least a week ahead – you might not get the same miracle I did.
Right away something felt different about this place. The atmosphere is very ‘Grandma’s house’ mixed with modern elegance and it feels relaxed, warm, inviting and cozy. The decor is all items that we grew up with from grandma’s old silver serving plates on the wall, to old team pennants hanging on the wall that just took me back to the 80’s instantly. There was something about this place that just felt ‘familiar’ and even the bathrooms had a home feel to them. Of special note here, the ladies washroom had an assortment of ‘supplies’ that you might need offered up complimentary. It was a small touch, but a nice one in this day and age where even air at the gas station to pump up your tires costs money.
On to the Food: I’m going to do my best to describe this experience to you, but I have to say that it is best absorbed by BEING there. The ordering is different than you may be used to. There is no menu, only a chalkboard at the back of the restaurant that lists out items on the menu for that evening. The Chef, Sean Reeve is a master at creating creative and divine dishes, and he does this ALL with locally sourced food that is in Season. So, don’t expect to get strawberries when it is Fall. All of the food is procured from local farms. It is fresh, seasonal and exquisitely crafted into dishes that you can have all to yourself or share. In fact, there is a menu option where you can share EVERY item on the menu for $56/person in your party. I think next time, that will be my choice. Once you order your food, you enjoy your drinks, the atmosphere, the company you are with and the expectation of something really good about to be plunked down in front of you soon. And this place does not disappoint. Our party ordered 4 dishes to share: The Beef Brisket Dish, The Salmon Dish, The Squid Dish and a Lamb dish. Now, I’m being pretty generic with the names and it doesn’t really do the place justice. So here is a better breakdown:
Our shared appetizer was: Carolina Gold – Sage, Sunchoke, Cream, Mushroom, Rice
Humbolt Squid w/BC Mussels – Dill Parsnip, Beurre Blanc
Lamb and Grits – Neck, Tongue, Hop Oil, Cherry Vinegar
Corned Beef Brisket – Tomatillo Relish, Yam Fritter, Stout Mustard
Spring Salmon – Romano Bean Ragout, Beets, Vegetable Ash
My mouth is watering just typing these menu items out as I remember the taste explosion that happened. So well designed with no waste and all local products. It was indeed heaven. It made me think how much we have around us that just takes some creativity and skill like that of Chef Sean Reeve to transform it from ordinary mushroom on the field to an incredibly nourishing and orgasmic food presentation. I don’t use the word ‘orgasmic’ without calculated reason. ‘le petite mort’ or ‘little death’ is a moment where you see god, and when food is prepared really well and prepared with Joy, Creativity and Passion the experience of eating becomes the spiritual practice it should always be – it’s soul, body, mind and heart food. It’s the complete experience.
I’m laying it on pretty heavy here, and that is because I truly do love coming across a restaurant that makes it’s own rules, works hard to provide a service to the community and offers up nourishing and delightful food without too much bling and pompous self congratulation. The wait staff were very patient with our excitable and talkative party – in fact, they even took the time to engage in conversation with the birthday boy even though the place was packed and busy, busy. We had 3 servers during the evening and our meal was delivered warm, efficiently and cleared away just as quickly. The Mackenzie room states on their website that they book reservations with a 2.5 hour window because they feel this gives you adequate time to savour and enjoy your food and your company. Again, in Vancouver this is a welcome retreat from the urgency and ‘table turning’ that happens in most places. I remember one ‘Tea Place’ that I initially loved, instilling a 60 min MAX rule to sit at their tables to eat – this totally disgusted me and I wasn’t inclined to go back after that. I feel a restaurant should make you feel at home and make you feel like the most important guest there and they should focus on you, not on the customers that they could get in the door once they get rid of you. It’s important, so the fact that this place makes sure that your party is given ample time to savour and enjoy is another HUGE plus in my books.
Of a final note here, and one that I hold most dear because it is my passion with this blog and with my work with my Social Media and Community Building Company a Cue Creative Consulting, the community ‘give back’ of this restaurant is superb. They don’t advertise it, or go on about how wonderful they are. In fact, since a member of our party was early, they were able to see one of their acts go on behind the curtain before they officially opened. She saw a basket of sandwiches sitting on a table before the chairs had even been brought down and placed on the floor. That basket was taken outside and the sandwiches were hand delivered to homeless community members staying in the park. Not only is this a gracious and kind thing to do, it is a smart and community building thing to do. Treat the residents in that area, ALL of them with respect and you will build relationships with ALL of them – even the ones who cannot afford to dine at your restaurant. That is the mark of a true leader in socially conscious business that will offer sustainability, growth and nurturing to the community where they operate. Rather than drain an area of resources, they give back. This gives me great hope, and motivates me to spend the time to write a glowing review on a place purely out of my own desire to support their work.
Bravo Mackenzie Room!
You are the full meal deal, literally. Thank you for all of the work you do, and the sublime dining experience that you provide while caring for our community and the environment around you. You ‘Rock the Boat’ by refusing to be just another busy restaurant in just another busy City. You live by your values and I commend you for that!
Share this blog with your friends, but not all of them – let’s keep this gem our little secret shall we?
To view the FB live I did while at the restaurant, click HERE: https://www.facebook.com/kaare.long/videos/10157702657960316/
To book your reservation, visit their website: http://www.themackenzieroom.com/