I’m back in Canada for a summer visit and Vancouver is just as wonderful as I remember it (maybe even better)! I’ve been spending time with family and friends, going on hikes, and eating at all of my old favourite restaurants around the city. One neighbourhood I never explored that much when I lived in Vancouver was Gastown, the city’s oldest neighbourhood and now the up-and-coming epicenter of independent design, culture, fashion, and food in the city. Gastown was even designated as a National Historic Site in 2009 by the Canadian federal government.
I was happy to discover Vancouver Food Tour, the original food tour company in the city offering guided culinary tours to Vancouver’s very best eateries. Featuring a Modern Chinatown Tasting Tour, a Craft Beer ‘n Bites Tour, and a deluxe West Coast Foodie Adventure, Vancouver Food Tour has a tour for every taste and budget. I signed up for the Gastown Tasting Tour since I was eager to discover some new eateries in Vancouver’s hottest district.
We kicked off the tour inside Waterfront Station on the edge of Gastown. Our guide Francesca greeted us all warmly and immediately set us all at ease. As we set out on foot to our first stop, we passed by the iconic Gastown steam clock which dates back to 1977 and is partially powered by a steam engine. Though younger than one might expect based on its Victorian appearance and ever unreliable at doing its job (keeping the time and tooting on the hour), the steam clock is a much-loved landmark and photo op in Gastown.
Salt Tasting Room
45 Blood Alley Square, Vancouver
Francesca led us down a quiet alley which she revealed is called Blood Alley – not for its gruesome reputation, but because it used to be the spot in the city where shoppers could find the freshest cuts of meat. We pulled up to a nondescript restaurant entrance for our first stop on the tour and I was thrilled to find out it was the Salt Tasting Room. I had been trying to visit this restaurant with a friend of mine during my Vancouver visit but we couldn’t find the time so I was happy to learn that I’d get to try it after all.
The Salt Tasting Room specializes in artisanal cheeses, small-batch cured meats, and a wide variety of wines, beers, and sherries. They offer customizable tasting plates combining fresh meats, cheeses, and condiments off a rotating menu. You can also pair your tasting plate with a wine flight either self-selected or left to the hands of the team at Salt.
We were served their Canada Plate which consisted of all locally-produced items and wines. We enjoyed a light and fruity white Moon Curser Arneis paired with creamy Ash Camembert and a drizzle of organic honey for our first tasting. My favourite bite from our tasting plate, the smooth Camembert was perfectly complemented by the sweet honey on a slice of baguette. Next, we sipped on a Tightrope Vertigo, a red blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Barbera, and nibbled on Sour Tuscan salami and little cornichons. To round out the tasting plate, we sampled a rich red Covert Farms Amicitia with corned beef and Guinness mustard. The Salt Tasting Room was the perfect spot to kick off our progressive dinner through Gastown and is a unique place that I would gladly return to.
The Irish Heather
210 Carrall Street, Vancouver
With our appetites whetted, we headed over to The Irish Heather, a European gastropub known for its dazzling array of whiskeys; in fact, they won the 2015 Irish Whiskey Bar of the Year Award. We settled in at a table at the back where we were promptly served an Old Fashioned, a classic whiskey cocktail made using Buffalo Trace bourbon, sugar, and Angostura bitters. Reputed as the best Old Fashioned in Vancouver, the drink had a refreshing orange flavour and a smooth finish. Recommended for classic cocktail lovers!
To nibble, we were each served a plate of canapés including ham with Bocconcini balls, cucumber with smoked salmon, dill, and cream cheese, and a phyllo parcel with a goat cheese and sundried tomato filling.
We were invited to check out their bar in the back room where they hold private events and have an even larger selection of whiskey on display. They also have a small patio at the back of the restaurant where you can enjoy a drink in the sunshine. The staff were all helpful and friendly, making The Irish Heather the perfect spot to soak in some Irish charm.
Calabash Caribbean Bistro
428 Carrall Street, Vancouver
After a short walk, we arrived at Calabash, a Caribbean bistro known for its homey and authentic Caribbean food. We kicked off our figurative journey to the West Indies by sipping on a hand-crafted Dark and Stormy, the national drink of Bermuda made with ginger-infused Goslings Black Seal with homemade ginger beer, Angostura bitters, and house-made ginger syrup. I especially loved the huge flakes of coconut sprinkled with cinnamon which I happily snacked on and stirred throughout my icy, spicy cocktail.
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We dined on a bowl of jerk spice-dusted plantain chips, grilled free-range jerk chicken skewers, and a generous pile of warm Jamaican patties with beef, chicken, and vegetables served with their own house-made hot sauce. The dishes were a first for me as I’ve rarely had the chance to try Caribbean food. How lucky that I can find some authentic Caribbean food in Vancouver!
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The Portside Pub
7 Alexander Street, Vancouver
Our final stop on the tour was at The Portside Pub, a stylish brew pub in the heart of Gastown. Known for their local craft beers on tap, the Portside is a popular destination for beer tastings and pub food pairings.
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Our server brought out a flight of beer for each of us – a light Analog 78 Kolsch from the Phillips Brewing Co. in Victoria, a Shipwreck IPA from Lighthouse Brewing in Victoria, and a 33 Acres of Darkness black lager from 33 Acres Brewery in Vancouver. Though I’m not a beer drinker, I enjoyed sampling some BC craft beers and learning about the IBU (International Bitterness Units) scale used to measure the bitterness of different beers.
It turns out that our last stop was our most filling stop – we dined on hearty upscale pub food favourites like potato skins layered with cheddar cheese, crispy smoked bacon, and green onions; mac & cheese made with farmhouse cheese and a buttermilk cream sauce; and a shepherd’s pie made with local ground beef and veggies in a BC red wine sauce topped with buttermilk chive mashed potatoes.
Our Gastown Tasting Tour stops were all well-chosen and showcased the variety of food and drink available in this vibrant neighbourhood of Vancouver. Since I came to the tour with an empty stomach, I must admit that I had hoped for a few more samples of food and a little less alcohol. That being said, all the food and drinks we sampled were excellent and the staff at each restaurant were knowledgeable and extremely accommodating to our tour group and our food restrictions. I do think that after all the heavy food at the end of the tour, a sweet bite of dessert would have been a nice way to round out the progressive meal. My conclusion: If you are looking for a lively introduction to the Gastown food and drink scene and love hand-crafted cocktails and BC wine and beer, then you will be delighted by this delectable tour.
Thanks so much to Vancouver Food Tour for hosting me and big thanks to Francesca for a fun culinary tour of Gastown!
What are your favourite eateries in Gastown or Vancouver in general? I’d love to hear in the comments below!