Some people think the heart of Gastown is the famous Steamclock. Or maybe they thinks it's the intersection that comprises the classic flat iron Europe Hotel, the infamous Chill Winston pub, the monument to Gastown founder, Vancouver essentially, Gassy Jack and enough cobblestones to choke every whale in the Pacific. But they'd be wrong. Let me propose to you that the rightful centre of Gastown is Jules Bistro!
Nestled 40 feet off bustling Water St, the spine of Gastown, on Abbott St, between Water and Cordova St, Jules Bistro has sat for almost a decade. Their neighbours', The Flying Pig and The Lamplighter Public House, offerings are worlds apart from Jules Bistro. You won't find any greasy pub food or swine-dominated platters at Jules'!
Owner Emmanuel Joinville's culinary career started in his native Dijon in France. The region made famous by their impeccable mustards also has birthed some of the world's greatest chefs! He apprenticed in Rene Villard's Chateau Bourgogne in Dijon and opened his first bistro in Dijon after learning all he could there. In 2000, after over a decade of experience as a restauranteur and culinary innovator, he emigrated to Canada and Jules Bistro was born 7 years later.
Head Chef Atsuo Nomura took a unique path to his career as well getting his start washing dishes in a fine dining French restaurant in his native Nagoya, Japan. Seeing his passion the chef began apprenticing him and, after completing culinary school, Atsuo went on to be the head chef of a French restaurant in Nagoya before himself also emigrating to Canada.
I once had a friend move to BC from Alberta and the thing he marvelled at most in his early days were our cedar hedges. Their health, their deep emerald green colour and, most importantly, their enchanting fragrance. Jules Bistro's spacious patio is encircled by incredible specimens of cedar hedges and overflowing hanging flower baskets. They all at once offer privacy from the potential of gawking passers-by and provide a fragrant, garden-like setting. First impression; check!
When you enter 3 chandeliers dangle elegantly over a very inviting bar. A half dozen bar stools face a generously stocked bar and almost every liquor imaginable gazes out invitingly. During our roughly 3 hour visit many a single diner perched themselves at the bar; Jules' is the kind of place where you can go alone for a quick bite, drink and warm chat with the bartender.
First order of business upon being seated at a lovely table by the window overlooking the foliage of the patio is champagne, as it should almost always be! Leaving the selection up to our amiable server Angela we were pleased with our first taste of the Crémant de Bourgogne. Sipping happily we ordered our first course: a Lobster and Prawn Bisque and Escargot. Much to our surprise Frog Legs and Prawn Salad Rolls preceded our choices with an explanation that the chef wanted us to try them and, possibly, fatten us up to eat us later in a magical house made out of gingerbread. The latter, happily, never came to fruition.
The Frog Legs were a revelation! I am not ashamed to admit that I bogarted them and the ever accommodating Jenn Chan was kind enough to nibble and leave me with the lion's share. Everyone always says that frog legs taste like chicken, but I think that's to assuage people's fear that they'll taste like they smell; not the case! Bathed in a herb, garlic butter sauce they tasted, predominantly, like herbs and garlic, but a subtle tang of the frog meat greets your palate as you swallow. In a good way. A very good way! I have had occasion to partake in frog that was not of this caliber. Hands down the best frog legs of my life!
The prawn salad rolls were very interesting, think sushi with lettuce instead of rice. A very nice spice with the kewpie mayonnaise and jalapeño peppers! We ate everything happily and moments after we were done, a simmering bowl of lobster bisque was placed in front of me. While I pride myself on not being prejudice, and consider Campbell's tomato soup amongst my favourites, lobster bisque is my favourite soup of all time! Due to this I have consumed it in no fewer than 100 establishments from diners to 5-diamond eateries. Jules Bistro is in the top 1%, it's that good!
The escargot, Escargot Bourguignonne to be precise, a further tip of the hat to owner Emmanuel's culinary roots, was excellent! Some local chain restaurants, who shall remain nameless, overdo their escargot. They top it with this and that, layer it with mushrooms, cheese and enough oil to start a car engine, but at Jules Bistro you get the snail, remarkably fresh and without a hint of rubberiness that you can happen upon when eating these garden creatures, and fresh garlic and parsley butter. That's it. That's really all you need! A near perfect 9/10!
Our entrées arrived just as the last shelled slug slid down our throats. Did I mention the service was way above average? Angela, though it was in the infancy of her tenure at Jules', was remarkably warm and, as mentioned previously, courses rushed out as soon as courses finished like perfectly timed stop lights ushering you with ease through busy cities! My Beef Tenderloin arrived the perfect blue rare, first box ticked, was exceptional AAA Alberta beef and the red wine reduction it bathed in was doggedy bag worthy in and of itself! It came with a very innovative scalloped potato which was lovely and a delicious ratatouille. It disappeared quickly despite my ever tightening waistband. It was paired masterfully with a Pinot Noir Bourgogne from the Maison Louis Jadot winery.
Jenn's entrée arrived and, as good entrées do, made me instantaneously envious! Some of the most tender Duck Confit I have ever been lucky enough to have been offered a bite of. It sat on a bed of Frisée Salad with bacon and roasted pine nuts and fingerling potatoes. I was told it was a perfect 10/10, but I never give those out so chefs have the opportunity to keep growing so this 10/10 is from the Jenn Chan herself! It went well with a Cabernet Franc from the Intersection Estate Winery in BC's own gorgeous Okanagan Valley.
Dessert at Jules Bistro centres around exactly what you would expect from a fine French restaurant with a casual atmosphere: Crème Brûlée. When done right it is a marvel, sweet and smoky and decadent. When done wrong it can be like store bought pudding with a slight tinge on top. I've had experienced both and Jules Bistro falls heavily in the first category! A rich vanilla cream scorched masterfully on top; amazing burnt cream! We also ordered a Sour Cherry Clafoutis with a lovely buttermilk-lemon sorbet which, admittedly, didn't get the attention of the Crème brûlée, but was itself a fantastic way to end our culinary experience!
Jules Bistro is a must! Get the frog legs, get the bisque and get the duck confit and send your thanks to Scott@JennChanPhotography.com :) And also give a shoutout, of course, to the soldiers in the Jules Bistro kitchen!