On July 18th, Eating in Vancouver & the World was invited out to Kits to sample the brand new menu at Establishment Lounge by Executive Chef Victor Bongo. Before attending the event, I took a quick peek at the new menu attached to the press alert and was quite surprised at what I saw. Unlike many other lounges in Vancouver that serve the standard burgers, wings, nachos etc. Establishment’s new menu boasts an impressive array of international fusion tapas. Utilizing ingredients and flavour profiles from all over the world, the assembled media were treated to a generous tasting of 11 dishes. Each offering was as unique as it was worldly and I believe all in attendance were quite impressed by the end of the evening.
The first dish I tried was the Vegetarian Peanut Soup which has quickly risen to local acclaim amongst local foodies and media alike. Similar to Chef Bongo’s African Chicken Peanut Soup, this new variation does not contain any meat but was still very delicious. The soup itself was extremely smooth and easy to drink with faint hints of coconut milk and subtle African spices. I rarely (if ever) order vegetarian soup when I go out to eat but I really did enjoy this new dish and would definitely order a bowl of it.
The second dish I tried was the Black Truffle Saccottini Pasta served on a spoon. This dish was very rich as the vanilla Galliano cream sauce was luxuriously applied to the saccottini. The pasta itself was cooked perfectly and was complimented well by the textural contrast element which was a smooth sweet pea puree. Garnished with a small amount of merlot micro-greens and fresh pancetta, this was a very strong pasta dish that can and does stand quite competently on its own.
The third dish I tried was the Bison Slider. First off, the slider patty was very well prepared, cooked evenly and served hot but still juicy. The bread was fragrant and soft but held up well structurally. What made the slider unique was definitely the innovative combination of port-wine cheddar cheese, cranberry onion relish and a fresh beet aioli. These are not ingredients you typically find in a burger so the fusion element was definitely refreshing. Though not your standard slider, I quite enjoyed this offering and could have easily put away 3-4 more.
The fourth dish I tried was the Okanagan Goat Cheese & Fig Soufflé. The soufflé itself was prepared quite well and was supported well by the golden beet carpaccio. The light maple truffle vinaigrette was subtle but definitely helped shape the cheese and fig tones together. I think if shared amongst several friends, this would be a fantastic appetizer to whet the appetite.
The fifth dish I tried was the Lamb Merguz Frank. Let me start off by saying this is not your typical baseball park frank. The croissant encasing the sausage was extremely buttery and fresh, soft to the touch and amazingly fragrant. As a big sausage lover, I must add that the meat was very well balanced both in flavour and structure. Dressed with chipotle aioli, cucumber pico de gallo and fresh honey-mint yogurt, this was a heavier offering that really caught my attention with both its intrinsic complexity of ingredients and bold attempt at fusing multiple different flavour layers. Overall, a technically difficult dish that I think Chef Bongo pulled off quite successfully.
The sixth dish I tried was a stick of Malaysian Chicken Satay. Now, as somebody born in Malaysia, I am sometimes a little harsh when commenting on the state of Malaysian cuisine in Vancouver. When I saw this dish in the line-up, I must confess one of my eyebrows may have raised an inch or so. My thoughts after trying a stick or two? Not half bad. The free range chicken was very fresh and absorbed the mixed Malaysian spices well. Most importantly, the meat was still moist and did not have to resuscitated by the peanut sauce.
The seventh dish I tried was Thai Tiger Prawn on a stick. Similar to the Malaysian satay previously, I was curious how this dish would turn out. Although we were not served the coconut steamed rice due to a kitchen issue, I think the prawn itself stood well on its own. Personally, I did not really see why the shell was removed and a skewer was used but I am assuming it was for presentation/ease of eating. The fusion tapas theme is evident in this dish as well with a small amount of cucumber raita used to garnish the prawn. I was continually impressed all evening by Chef Bongo’s consistent attempts to fuse flavours from vastly different culinary cultures. By garnishing a Thai Prawn with an Indian raita, foodies with even a little bit of food knowledge will appreciate the constant push for innovation in each successive dish.
The eighth dish I tried was a Moroccan Lamp Lollipop on a skewer. Topped with a thick Chambord fig jam sauce and a small dollop of goat cheese crème fraiche, the lamp was cooked perfectly. Although we were served only a small piece to taste, the cut of lamb was high grade, thick-cut and well infused with exotic seasonings. I vaguely remember eating this dish with a fork and knife to prolong the experience but honestly I should have just popped the whole thing into my mouth. Very rich and executed very well.
The ninth dish I tried was the Latin Pan Seared Scallop. Full disclosure, although I love all kinds of seafood I have a special place in my heart for a perfectly cooked scallop. The one I was served was quite large and perfectly cooked. Cutting the scallop into fourths to check the cook through, I couldn’t help but notice how complex the tiny dish actually was. Served over chile morita on a sweet corn cake with avocado mousse and chipotle aioli AND accompanied by a pico de gallo, I had to check the menu several times just to identify all the elements. For a single scallop offering, this dish was dynamically complex with a half dozen different flavour and texture elements. Honestly speaking, 2-3 elements could have been left out and the scallop still would have tasted great. A very high level creation that should fascinate foodies interested in multi-tier flavour profiles.
The tenth dish I tried was a Shrimp and Lobster Cake. To any fans of crab cakes out there, this is basically a crab cake taken ten notches up in quality and taste. The mix of shrimp and lobster was very very fine to the point the different core meats were indistinguishable. Crusted in a fine almond crust and accompanied by chipotle sauce, miso and jerk aioli, the cake itself was allowed to shine without too many distracting flavours. As with any good tapas, I felt like I could have eaten these all night they were that good.
The eleventh and last dish of the evening was a Chilled Raspberry Soup. Very similar to a chilled fruit yogurt, this was a very nice end to a wonderful evening. The blend of plain and banana yogurt was very smooth and the addition of soda water, fresh basil, Triple Sec and Chive crème fraiche just put it over the top. With Chef Bongo, you really get the feeling he does not do anything half way. When he does fusion, he truly seeks to create unique and innovative flavour sets to please the diner. Instead of simply blending some berries into yogurt and calling it a day, this final dish really demonstrates the complexity of vision and skill that encompasses his craft.
Wrapping up with a few final thoughts, I left this tasting suitably impressed both by the intrinsic skill level AND culinary ambition so evident in every dish. Kitsilano is an area known for great restaurants so I was quite surprised to realize I have never been to the Establishment Lounge until this event. With the recent addition of Chef Bongo as Executive Chef, I think the future is very exciting for this trendy, modern lounge. With a young, talented chef and a phenomenally diverse menu, I truly believe even the pickiest eater can find something they will love here. By drawing on flavours from Africa, Italy, Thailand, Indian, America etc. diners truly get the best of a multitude of culinary worlds.
Establishment Lounge is located in Kitsilano at 3162 West Broadway in Vancouver B.C., between Balaclava & Trutch Street. You can visit their website at www.estlounge.com to take a look at their menu and follow them on Twitter at @EstLounge.