– Words by Joanne Peters Photographs by Lia Crowe
A map that travels from the depths of the ocean to the open pastures, natural light pouring through floor-to-ceiling windows, glamorous forest green and matte gold accents, and all manner of plants – tall, hanging, climbing, and lush. Across from Canada Place is one of the most exciting restaurants to open in Vancouver this year.
Even if you don’t know the name of the Glowbal group of restaurants, chances are you’ve dined at one of its hotspots: Glowbal, Trattoria, Coast, Black+Blue or Italian Kitchen, to name a few. name a few. Today, the group founded by the restaurateur of Egyptian origin Emad Yacoub adds Riley’s Fish and Steak to his wallet, and that’s the crown jewel.
The restaurant is named after Sean Riley, Emad’s very first employee and executive chef, who worked for him in Toronto and rode across the country to help him open Glowbal more than two decades ago. He’s still an integral part of the business, where Top Chef Canada Season 7 contestant Dennis Peckham is the corporate chef of GRG.
Occupying and expanding the former home of Tourism Vancouver just off the cruise ship terminal, the 240-seat venue, with a wine wall and waterfront bar, embraces Coast’s emphasis on fish and fresh seafood from Eastern and Western waters (think everything from PEI pink oysters and Atlantic lobster to Haida Gwaii halibut and scallops Qualicum Bay) with Black+Blue’s expertise in premium Canadian and American beef.
At the helm of the kitchen, executive chef Jérôme Soubeyrand. Born and raised in Lyon, France, he brings years of experience in some of Europe’s finest restaurants to Vancouver, including eight Michelin stars, having held roles here at Coast and Black & Blue.
He has worked alongside culinary authorities such as Paul Bocuse (who founded one of the world’s most rigorous international cooking competitions) and Daniel Boulud (a fellow Lyonnais who owns dining establishments in New York, Dubai and beyond). Among his colleagues is also another Michelin-starred chef, Joël Robuchon, credited with creating the best mashed potatoes in the world. At Riley’s, you can taste Jerome’s version of the famous dish. Ask him how much butter it contains. Or better yet, don’t.
Although Riley’s is not a French restaurant, there is evidence of Jerome’s classical training and technique throughout the menu. Consider the shavings of foie gras and red wine jus that accompany the steak and fries, the moist sweetness of homemade brioche (with garlic, Gruyère cheese, whipped butter, smoked Maldon salt and lobster oil), the velvety Béarnaise sauce optional tarragon to go with charcoal-grilled prime morsels; and lobster Thermidor, the succulent meat cooked in a decadent wine sauce before being put back in the shell and browned. Then there is Jérôme’s coq au vin. Particularly dear to the chef is the comfort dish of chicken pieces braised in red wine with shiny pearl onions, very flavorful forest mushrooms and thick strips of dried pork belly.
“I started cooking with my mother every Sunday for the family at a young age, which reignited my love for food,” says Jérôme. “Coq au vin reminds me of home and the meals my mother cooked for my father. Where I grew up near Lyon there were a number of wine estates, so coq au vin was a staple in our house.
Other menu items of particular interest to Jerome are the Rockefeller oysters (the shellfish baked with buttered spinach and topped with a crab béarnaise sauce) and Riley’s succulent chilled seafood towers. These come in three variations (grand, deluxe and king), with delicacies like halibut ceviche, marinated mussels and clams, freshly shucked oysters and snow crab legs.
“My overall vision for Riley’s has everything to do with overcoming our customers’ exceptions from the moment they walk through the door to the moment they leave,” says Jerome. “I want them to think of Riley’s every time they come to our town. I want them to feel like they need to see us if they have a milestone to celebrate in their life or if they’re trying to impress their friends or colleagues. My goal is for our customers to plan their next visit before they even have dessert.
While the chef sources as many local and seasonal ingredients as possible, he concedes there are exceptions: “How can you refuse an amazing piece of Wagyu beef?” (Try the Wagyu carpaccio topped with smoked tomato jam, onion rings, Parmigiano Reggiano and served with chimichurri toast.)
There’s another part of Riley’s history unlike anything else in the city, and that’s its wine program. Offering one of the largest selections of wines by the glass in the city, the restaurant has also introduced a new concept here: every bottle (whether it’s Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris or Château Lafite Rothschild 2010 Pauillac) is listed at wine store prices plus a $40-$50 corkage fee, providing access to some of the world’s finest vintages at prices unheard of in the city’s dining scene.
“This will make it the most aggressive wine price for white tablecloth service Vancouver has ever seen,” says Jerome.
Cocktails are another draw. Riley & The Beast is a signature concoction: floral and frothy with Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla gin, St. Germain, rose water and honey lemon, it’s topped with a ruby red wafer of dehydrated raspberry and a small Persian rosebud. Cucumber Pivot, a refreshing yet potent blend of Ketel One Cucumber Mint Vodka, Aperol Honey, Sparkling Wine and Lemon, is Instagrammable with a sprig of thyme hugging the tall glass and attached with the world’s smallest clothes pin.
At press time, Riley’s had just launched, offering dinner service (and live music every night) and happy hour, with lunch and brunch on the horizon. As for what the future holds, who knows? Only the sea, forests, farms and imagination are the limit.
“We will continue to move forward and evolve,” says Jérôme. “What I love most about my job is the adrenaline rush of service, the anticipation of a busy night, and seeing happy customers appreciate my team’s hard work.”
Story courtesy of Boulevard magazinea publication of Black Press Media