There are no shortages of great restaurants in Vancouver. In fact there are so many choices when it comes to eating out we frequently end up at places we already know are reliable and tasty. After all most of us are creatures of habit. However, this past weekend we decided to stray off our usual restaurant path and try something new. We ended up at ‘Refuel’ on West 4th Avenue.
‘Refuel’ is a re-vamped and re-branded version of a restaurant called ‘Fuel’. ‘Fuel’ closed at the end of 2009 after struggling to succeed as a high-end restaurant. Vancouver has an excess of expensive restaurants and the market did not respond well to yet another pretentious eating establishment, especially during the economic downturn. ‘Fuel’ was closed and re-opened as ‘Refuel’, a lower-priced, more casual operation. The food is less complex; they offer laid back, good quality comfort food in a relaxed environment. I’m impressed that the chef and co-owner, Robert Belcham, was open to re-thinking his concept. Rather than simply closing down and giving up, he responded to the market by coming back with a new, more fitting theme for his ailing enterprise.
I’ve read a number of good reviews about ‘Refuel’ and was keen to try it. Chef Robert Belcham worked at my favorite seafood restaurant ‘C’ (arguably the best restaurant in town) and in 2009 the Vancouver Magazine voted him chef of the year. He sources the majority of his food locally, makes homemade charcuterie, house cured bacon and butchers the meat himself! Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a lover of meat, so these facts certainly impress and entice me!
We went last Friday night and really enjoyed ourselves. The restaurant was busy so I’m glad we’d made a reservation. I was immediately taken with the one pager menu. Almost everything was locally sourced: steamed local manila clams, UBC Farm arugula salad, Sawmill Bay oysters, buttermilk fried Polderside chicken, Sloping Hill pork and wild BC salmon, just to name a few. One of the specials that night was a whole duck confit for two, with frisée , a green apple grainy mustard and crunchy skin, for $30 per person. It sounded mouthwatering, a whole crunchy duck, wow, but we opted to try the regular menu that the reviews raved about instead.
To start we shared ‘Doug’s crispy pork ribs’, with housemade BBQ sauce. For $8 we got a generous portion of scrumptious Sloping Hill baby back ribs, smothered in a light BBQ sauce. Great for sharing. For mains Sam had the dry aged beef burger, with cheddar and house cured bacon for $15.50, with the option of adding ‘poutine’ to the fries for an extra $3.50 (he was tempted, but didn’t bother in the end). They grind the burgers to order and give you the option of rare, medium rare, etc. He was very impressed and wolfed it down in no time! I had the buttermilk fried Polderside chicken; it was so succulent and moist. For $18 you get 3 huge pieces of fried chicken, a jalapeño biscuit, coleslaw and gravy. It was absolutely delicious, I can still taste it! I was naughty and also ordered a side of triple cooked kennebec fries (which also come with the burger), they were crunchy and incredibly flavourful, drowned in the gravy they tasted amazing!
‘Refuel’s’ fried chicken has been so successful they offer a special fried chicken take-out picnic. For $35 you can get six pieces of chicken, two sides, two biscuits and two sodas. Since the portions are big, this could easily be enough food for three! They also have an attractive daily burger and beer special for $15.50 from 3pm – 6pm and again from 9pm – close.
Overall we are extremely impressed and will definitely return soon (although this restaurant is more of a fall/winter place since they serve quintessential comfort food).
‘Refuel’ is located at 1944 West 4th Avenue. They are open daily from 11:30am till late. Check out their online menu at www.refuelrestaurant.com.