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Leading the kitchens at AnnaLena, Their There and Hundy, chef Michael Robbins is a triple threat.
Can you separate the artist from the art? In the case of AnnaLena, the 42-seat restaurant that’s the winner of both our brand-new Best Contemporary award and the coveted title of 2023 Restaurant of the Year, the answer is simple: no.
Our Restaurant Awards judges consider chef Michael Robbins’s talent and the success of AnnaLena to be inextricable—and the chef himself acknowledges the connection. “As I grow up, the room grows up,” says Robbins, who was only 29 when he and managing partner Jeff Parr opened the restaurant in 2015.
Robbins’s culinary journey began at Earls—a rite of passage for many Vancouver teenagers. From there, he moved up to chef de partie at Joe Fortes, then chef de cuisine at Glowbal, Coast and Sanafir; after that, he opened the Oakwood Canadian Bistro as executive chef. (Apart from some time working in Sydney, Australia, his hospitality career has been hyper-local.) “I’ve never stopped learning,” he says. “I’m still a sponge.”
In addition to the Michelin-starred AnnaLena, Robbins is honoured this year for his café Their There and burger joint Hundy. It’s an eclectic portfolio: AnnaLena serves up a refined tasting menu, Their There has coffee and brunch, Hundy is all about burgers and fries. Running this trio of rooms has its challenges, but Robbins thrives under pressure—especially when it’s self-assigned. “I like to put myself in uncomfortable situations,” he explains. “I think that if you’re comfortable, you’re not pushing yourself—and I want to keep growing.”
From burgers to barley risotto, Robbins keeps his food extraordinary but unintimidating. Take his approach to duck pâté: duck fat and five-spice is baked into a carrot muffin, and whipped duck pâté is piped on top. Garnished with cherry gel and black truffle, this complex, savoury dish is disguised as a cupcake. And Robbins’s insta-worthy dishes are just as tasty as they are beautiful. “He makes food look pretty, but also really delicious—it’s not just for the camera,” says Restaurant Awards judge Mijune Pak.
Accolades aside (enRoute, Canada’s 100 Best, Michelin and, of course, Vanmag have all recognized AnnaLena), the chef continues to push his skills to the limit and experiment in the kitchen. He won’t rest on his laurels, regardless of critical acclaim or economic success. “There is something unfulfilling about doing the same thing on repeat just to make money,” he says.
Pak praises Robbins and AnnaLena for thriving in a neighbourhood not known for fine dining: “He’s made himself a destination-worthy restaurant,” she says. And despite creating over 60 tasting menus, the chef continues to surprise and delight the people he’s feeding. “He’s an artist, for sure,” she says.
Looking for more of the best restaurants in Vancouver? See all 70+ restaurants on the list.