Cactus Club. In BC if you utter these words you know precisely what you're going to get in any of their 25 locations: good food, tons of delicious drink choices, beautiful servers and a picturesque setting. When you say Cactus Club English Bay (CCEB) or Cactus Club Coal Harbour (CCCH) you get all these things except you sub out 'picturesque setting' with 'breathtaking, world class setting'. We were lucky enough to check out both the beachside English Bay location for lunch and the flagship Coal Harbour location for dinner one sunny June day.
Our taxi pulled up in front of CCEB and the sun was shining, tourists were milling about the beach and locals were either drenched in sweat having just finished running Vancouver's famous sea wall or gently glistening having just started. We were greeted at the door by Divya, the PR manager for Cactus Club, and Kellie, an outside PR pro from Talk Shop Media. With the red carpet having been rolled out we headed to the dining room with our new friends to chat and to try some appetizers and their special summer cocktail menu; amazing!
Owing to journalistic integrity we took it upon ourselves to try each summer cocktail currently on offer, it's a tough life. The Brazilian, fresh lime and kiwi with white rum and soda, is the perfect drink for a summer afternoon. It's a well proportioned cocktail and led perfectly into the Passionfruit Bellini; champagne, vodka and Passionfruit. Blended with ice it is a wonderful adaptation on the Cactus Club's staple Bellini and is so delicious I could have had 10. Would I have been able to walk after? Would I have developed diabetes? We will never know as I switched over to the equally delicious Signature Sangria. I have experimented with no less than 20 different types of sangria from dozens of different establishments in a half dozen countries and Cactus Club does it as well, and in most cases better, than anyone. The Zinfandel used is not your $3 bottle of wine as some places will try to pass off. The strawberries and raspberries added were firm and fresh and they spike it further with some lovely Apricot Brandy to liven things up. As if that weren't enough a splash of their renowned Bellini rounds out the recipe; a near perfect 9/10!
The tuna stack is their best selling appetizer and it is not difficult to see why. Albacore tuna with citrus tamari vinaigrette, nori, sesame, avocado, micro cilantro and served with wonton chips. The fish was incredibly fresh and flavourful and it seemed to pair seamlessly with each cocktail we indulged in. Worth the trip all on its own!
After our appies we switched tables and moved to the patio. It is no exaggeration to say their patio is the closest to the beach in Vancouver. Lift and Cardero's in Coal Harbour overhang the ocean, as do several on Granville Island, but not at sea level adjacent to a white sand beach where swimmers scurry in and out of the majestic Pacific Ocean. We wracked our brains, all 4 of us local Vancouverites, and could not come up with a better beach restaurant location. So why were they so lucky to set up right on the beach? Well the answer is they weren't lucky, they were tenacious. The City of Vancouver, who still owns the land, put out a request for proposals to build a restaurant on the site. Cactus won and the result is jaw dropping. One of the caveats to the winner was that they had to keep a concession stand-type food counter available to beach goers. The resulting kiosk opened the day we arrived and already had a dozen or so satisfied patrons on its lovely patio.
Where do adults meet most of their friends? The simple answer is at work. We spend a third of our day there and we grow to confide in our co-workers, depend on them and truly cherish them. As lifestyle bloggers our workplaces can vary widely. On this sunny Vancouver afternoon it was CCEB and we did make some great, new friends in Divya and Kellie. Our conversation, as conversations do after sharing cocktails in the sun for 3 hours, covered the gambit from politics to real estate to travel to celebrities to everything in between. When hiring someone to handle your public relations it's probably a good idea that they be extremely congenial and outgoing. Both Cactus and Talk Shop did well with these hires!
As our main courses arrived we were eagerly anticipating our Ravioli & Prawn Trio and Peppercorn Sirloin. The presentation was perfect! The ravioli was clearly freshly made in-house and the prawns fresh and firm. The steak came out a perfect blue rare, a good start, and the peppercorn wasn't overpowering and blended well with a nice cut of meat. Now I have had steak as thick as my arm and steak aged a million years from cows who were massaged daily and fed nothing but Gucci grains and Louis Vuitton water so I have developed an admittedly bad case of steak snobbery. While I have yet to give a steak a perfect 10/10, even when faced with $200 cuts from 5-diamond restaurants, Cactus Club's 9-ounce Angus Beef Sirloin is very flavourful, tender and well spiced; a solid 8/10!
It is safe to say that Cactus Club English Bay is a must see! Tell them the folks at Jenn Chan Photography sent you and you just might get your table a little quicker!
After a quick nap we headed to Cactus Club Coal Harbour and were delighted to be met by Divya who was gracious enough to take time out of her evening to facilitate our introduction with the General Manager, Mr. Ben Cooney. Ben is a warm, genuine person and was quick to get us some beverages and give us a quick tour of the space. It is not hard to see where they spent the tens of millions of dollars to design and built the space; modern, elegant and bright!
We were fortunate enough to get a lovely table on the patio overlooking the 2010 Olympic torches and the rest of the beautiful Jack Poole Plaza. Our host suggested a couple of appetizers and we obliged his recommendations. A Kobe Style Meatball Trio with a Signature Caesar and Thai Chicken Wings with an Epic IPA. Paired perfectly; pub food done right!
Our entrées arrived with lovely presentations. The Sablefish on a bed of Shiitake Mushrooms, potatoes and asparagus and the Double Braised Pineapple Hoisin Short Ribs lined up beautifully besides some fresh, crisp snap peas, heavenly mashed potatoes and an artful dollop of Korean chilli sauce. The Sablefish had a delightful texture, buttery and soft, and came smothered in a Peking Duck broth, simply outstanding! The short ribs, in their own right, have a very unique pineapple ginger glaze and were tender, oh so tender! They could have been cut with a spoon, a dull spoon. The meat just simply fell away from the bone. A near perfect 9/10!
Our day at Cactus Club was incredible and we left their flagship Coal Harbour location revelling in our good fortune to not only be able to visit these great restaurants, sample their offerings and tell the world about it, but also making new friends along the way. Ben was kind enough to give us his business card and ask that we give him a heads up anytime we were coming down and he would have a table waiting for us. It's not about what you get out of life, it's what you give and the more you get the more you'll give. Pay someone a compliment today and you'll be three back in due course! Head up your local Cactus Club and do yourself a favour!