Just don’t call it fusion.
Executive chef Clement Chan, at the helm of Vancouver’s highly anticipated Brass Fish Tavern, hates the term. The ’90s, he says, destroyed fusion with excess (we’re looking at you, Scottish-Mexican mariachi bands). Today, pan-Asian might be a catch-all, but Chan’s criteria are narrower: “If you don’t have to go to a specialty store to get it, it isn’t pan-Asian.” You can buy sriracha, soy sauce, and miso at any grocery store these days, but you can’t find sansho just anywhere.
The nautical-themed cornice of moulded ships, mermaids and tridents wrapped around the south-facing façade of the Marine Building hint at the transformation that has gone on inside. The pairing of building and restaurant was kismet. Jeff Donnelly of the Donnelly Group sat on the name Brass Fish for a while, and even collected pieces (such as a real whale skeleton) for the day he could bring the name (and skeleton) to life. That day will be Tuesday, February 4, when Brass Fish opens its doors.
Under Chan, Brass Fish pays homage to pub and tavern cuisine in elevated and unexpected ways, with a dedicated izakaya bar that flows into a conjoined dining space, and a menu that sneaks pan-Asian flavours in around the familiar.
The largely Japanese flavours on the menu not only bridge pub grub and the izakaya bar, but clean them up. Fried chicken becomes less oily, allowing fragrant elements to shine through—what Chan hopes will convey “the same vibe but different,” or even better.
It’s all about helping people uncover hidden influences and find new experiences in places they thought they had pinned down, he says.
With Brass Fish, Chan takes the lessons of a decade in the Vancouver food scene and plays with recipes he carried back from the roads of Thailand, Vietnam, and around Asia. He creates dishes he calls “tasty and efficient,” to satisfy the power-lunching, happy hour-ing, game-time eaters of the area.
The result is a lot of shareable snacks: the aforementioned fried chicken; shishito peppers served with lemon butter, miso aioli, pine nuts, and parmesan—a gustatory Russian roulette in which one devilish pepper in ten will have you begging for milk; and lighter-than-air crudo that showcases the tenderness of fish belly in a heavenly partnership with sharp green apple.
Brass Fish has set out to create a pub in a city that doesn’t do pubs properly. But instead of fighting against B.C. culture, it has chosen to let the province speak for itself, with local elements influencing the food, design, and aura of the project.
You think you know this menu, but allow yourself to be surprised. You may have had the dishes before, but under the deft guidance of chef Chan, Brass Fish models how B.C. and pubs can work together.
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