The Dirty Apron’s David Robertson on his hometown’s essential eats

David Robertson of The Dirty Apron in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
David Robertson of The Dirty Apron in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Hometown: North Vancouver, B.C.
Occupation: Chef and Owner, The Dirty Apron Cooking School and Delicatessen, Inc.
Years worked as a chef: 20+

Go to Chef Robertson’s shortlist

What do you love best about Vancouver’s food scene?

Vancouverites know and expect good quality and tasty food, but we are not willing to pay an arm and a leg for it. As a result, one can have an excellent meal at a reasonable price. I have also come to appreciate that Vancouver’s food following is extremely faithful and supportive. I myself still get excited when a new place opens up in the city, and as long as the food is good and it’s not pretentious or overpriced, I will be a fan.

Name the top restaurants and dishes that you think every visitor to Vancouver should try. 

Chambar: The braised lamb shank. This is a perfect dish for Vancouver’s rainy days. It’ll warm you right up after a long day playing in the snow on one of our mountains.

Lamb popsicles from Vij's
Lamb popsicles from Vij’s

Vij’s: His lamb popsicles are a must-try.

Tojo’s: When Tojo first started out in Vancouver, there were less than five sushi restaurants in this city. Now we have over 600 of them. Tojo is a passionate ambassador for Japanese food and put sushi on the map in Vancouver. Anything you order will be great, but I recommend trying the omakase.

Phnom Penh: Under the radar, hidden gem in this city. You will find many chefs there on early mornings, nursing their hangovers with great dishes such as buttered beef or crispy chicken wings.

What restaurants do you frequent the most, and why do you love returning to them?

Being a chef as well as a family man, the eateries I frequent the most are usually places that serve great food and are also fun and kid-friendly. Our whole family loves dim sum, so Kirin and Dynasty are both places I enjoy going to quite often. Another place we eat at frequently is Tableau, a fantastic place for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nuba is where I usually go for lunch meetings; they serve fantastic Lebanese food and are located around the corner from The Dirty Apron.

Steamed scallop and pea tip dumplings from Dynasty Seafood Restaurant. Photo credit: Stephen Tang.
Steamed scallop and pea tip dumplings from Dynasty Seafood Restaurant. Photo credit: Stephen Tang.

What is your favorite neighborhood to eat out in and why?

Having lived in Vancouver’s West End for many years, it is my favorite neighborhood for eating out in. There’s a great choice between a number of small eateries that may seem unassuming from the outside, but that serve authentic, tasty, and reasonably priced food that will have you come back for more. There’s usually one favorite dish I have in each restaurant, so one of my favorite things to do is to eat my way through the neighborhood, one dish and restaurant at a time.

Describe your “perfect dining out day” in Vancouver.

My “perfect dining out day” would start off at Café Medina, with great coffee and their hearty fricassee. From there I would be moving on to Robert Clark’s Fish Counter on Main Street for his fish and chips. My day would end at The Farmer’s Apprentice, where I’d be ready to experience their daily fresh sheet menu. If I had time (and room in my belly) between any of those meals, I’d trek over to the North Shore for some chocolates or pastries from Thomas Haas.

What dish is your guilty pleasure?

I am a fan of the savory. It’s easy for me to pass on dessert, but I will never turn down a cheese platter, no matter how full I am. Throw in some charcuterie and tasty pâtés, and I cannot stop myself…

You’re classically trained in French cuisine. What French restaurants do you highly recommend?

L’Abattoir for Nouveau French. Le Crocodile for old-school French fare.

What other cuisines would you consider yourself expert in? What restaurants in those cuisines would you suggest visitors try? 

I have worked with many Italian chefs over the years, and I have implemented a lot of Italian techniques and flavors into my cooking. My favorite Italian places to eat at in this city are La Quercia and Cioppino’s.

If a tourist is looking for some local flavor, what recommendations do you have for great BC/Canadian cooking?

The bison ribs at Burdock & Co.

Since Eats Abroad is geared toward travelers, are there any restaurants or bars at Vancouver International Airport or the city’s hotels that you enjoy visiting?

Whenever I am flying out of YVR, I head up to the Fairmont after check-in, where I know I can enjoy some tasty dishes and drinks before take off. Downtown, I like to go for brunch at Oru inside the Fairmont Pacific Rim, or to the Loden Hotel, which is home to Tableau, mentioned earlier.

Are there any foods native to Vancouver that you particularly like? 

Being a Vancouverite, I have to admit that sushi tastes like home to me. Whenever I travel abroad for longer periods of time, my first meal back home is sushi. I also look forward to spot prawn season in the months of May and June every year, and the mushroom season in the fall.
 
Finally, what would you say is the one thing any visitor must see or do before leaving Vancouver? 

Whenever we have visitors from out of town, I recommend that they do a Chinatown food tour. Also, one should check out Granville Island.

Chef Robertson’s Shortlist:

The Dirty Apron, 540 Beatty Street (Downtown).

Chambar, 568 Beatty Street (Downtown); Belgian, dinner only daily.

Vij’s, 1480 W. 11th Avenue (Fairview); modern Indian, dinner only daily.

Tojo’s, 1133 West Broadway (Fairview); sushi, dinner only Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

Phnom Penh, 244 E. Georgia Street (Chinatown); southeast Asian, lunch and dinner daily.

Kirin Restaurant, 1172 Alberni Street (West End); Chinese, lunch and dinner daily.
Second location at 555 W. 12th Avenue (Fairview); lunch and dinner daily.

Dynasty Seafood Restaurant, 777 West Broadway (Fairview); Chinese, lunch and dinner daily.

Tableau Bar Bistro, 1181 Melville Street (Coal Harbour); French, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner Monday-Saturday, brunch Sunday.

Nuba, 207 West Hastings Street (Downtown); Lebanese, lunch Monday-Saturday, dinner daily.
Second location at 3116 West Broadway (Kitsilano); lunch and dinner daily, brunch Sunday.

L’Abattoir, 217 Carrall Street (Gastown); French, dinner only daily.

Le Crocodile, 909 Burrard Street, Suite #100 (Downtown); French, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

La Quercia, 3689 West 4th Avenue (Kitsilano); Italian, dinner only Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.

Cioppino’s, 1133 Hamilton Street (Yaletown); Italian, dinner only Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

Café Medina, 780 Richards Street (Downtown); Mediterranean, breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

The Fish Counter, 3825 Main Street (Riley Park); seafood, lunch and dinner daily.

The Farmer’s Apprentice, 1535 West 6th Avenue (Fairview); lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner Tuesday-Sunday, brunch Saturday-Sunday, closed Monday.

Thomas Haas, 998 Harbourside Drive, North Vancouver, B.C.; chocolates and pastries, open Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.
Second location: 2539 West Broadway (Kitsilano); open Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.

Burdock & Co., 2702 Main Street (Mount Pleasant); dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Globe@YVR and Jetside Bar at The Fairmont Vancouver Airport, inside YVR (directly above U.S. departures terminal); Pacific Northwest, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

Oru at Fairmont Pacific Rim, 1038 Canada Place (Coal Harbour); Pacific Northwest, breakfast and dinner daily, lunch Monday-Friday, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Granville Island, 1661 Duranleau Street; Public Market open daily.


About the Chef: Despite being born in Toronto, Chef David Robertson proudly considers himself a Vancouver native, having moved to the city at the age of three. In his early 20s, he left the Pacific Northwest to embark on a decade-long worldwide journey, exploring kitchens and working under top chefs, such as Thomas Henkelmann at The Homestead Inn in Greenwich, Conn. (“I credit [him] with showing me what it truly means to be a chef.”) In 2004, Robertson returned to Vancouver and helped open the acclaimed Belgian restaurant Chambar, where he stayed on as Chef de Cuisine for the next five years.

“DURING MY TIME AT CHAMBAR, I DISCOVERED THAT I WAS NOT ONLY PASSIONATE ABOUT FOOD, BUT THAT I TRULY ENJOYED TEACHING PEOPLE ABOUT FOOD.”

Starting a cooking school was the natural next step for Robertson, and in August 2009, The Dirty Apron opened its doors. Since then, more than 40,000 students have enrolled in its courses, and visitors can even try their hand at Canadian cooking with special day classes starring locally-sourced ingredients, such as spot prawns, Berkshire pork and wine.

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