West Is Closing

The iconic South Granville power spot takes its bow.

There was a time in this city that a west side house could be had for under $1,000,000, we had a hockey team that was playoff bound and there was one constant in our restaurant awards: either Lumiere or West would take home the top award.

In some ways it was a golden age of dining, when restaurants not only weren’t afraid of being called fine dining, they embraced it. Jack Evrensel started it almost 20 years as Ouest, but the Gallic handle didn’t last very long in this anglophone town (the change to West seemed logical in the pre-Google age, when searching West + restaurant didn’t yield 10,000 options). But naming snafus aside, they had an ace in the hole with a young Vancouver chef who had been cutting his teeth in London but was anxious to return home: David Hawksworth. Under his watch the restaurant knocked Lumiere off the Restaurant of the Year pedestal in 2003, and then owned the category from 2005-2008. He was awarded Chef of the Year in 2005. The legendary David Wolowidnyk made seats at the bar the place to have a cocktail with a side of mixology history and maitre’d Brian Hopkins ran the room with warm precision. But by 2007 Hawksworth had left to start his eponymous venture and his replacement, Londoner Warren Geraghty, never really found his feet.

Thus began West’s long second act. It never again reached the heights of those early years as the industry moved away from the pursuit of costly excellence that marked its early years. Over the years,a murder’s row of talent passed through the room: Sabrine Dhaliwal replaced Wolowidnyk behind the bar, pastry chefs extraordinaire Rhonda Viani and Thierry Busset both did wonderful work, as did chefs Quang Dang, David Gunawan and current top dog, Bobby Milheron. Owen Knowlton has morphed from somm to GM and has admirably steered the ship for the past few years. But not only has dining changed, so has West’s South Granville digs. The high-end independent stores that used to mark the neighbourhood are all but gone, replaced by big brands willing to accept the street’s astronomical rents. And in the end that’s what likely did West in—the lease ends at the end of December and renewal would have been punitive.

I had been in recently to try their summer prix fixe menu that was an amazing deal—its $39 was ridiculously low for the food being served. The service—seamless and professional—was of a standard that’s near impossible to maintain in today’s staffing environment. I could spy Milheron in the kitchen, Knowlton was making the operation hum, Giovanni Giardino was tending to us. It was great and it’s how I’m going to remember this spot. Not the heady days of expense accounts and insanely expensive tasting menus, but the days where an amazing teams of pros put in the hours without the cavalcade of awards. In this sea of casual, it was a testament to hospitality. 

West will be open until the end of December 31st…plenty of time to pay your respects to  legendary spot.