One of the first things you notice when you walk into Espana (1118 Denman St., 604558-4040) is the bold, sketched mural, showing a bustling restaurant with servers at the bar pouring wine. But wait! Isn't that Manuel from Fawlty Towers on the wall?
When Espana's co-owner Ed Perrow asked artist Jay Senetchko the same question, he replied: "Well, you couldn't do a mural for a Spanish restaurant run by two guys from London and not have Manuel!"
Perrow and co-owner chef Neil Taylor formalized Perrow's longtime dream to open a Spanish room when they became good friends at Cibo, which Taylor raised to fame as En Route Magazine's Best New Restaurant in Canada in 2009.
The two discovered a shared passion for all things Spanish and when the Denman Street space, briefly home to Cosca, became available, barely a cork's toss from English Bay, the two leapt into action.
Perrow says he lamented the shortage of good Spanish dining in Vancouver for some time-and he's also a big fan of Spanish wines, which he feels (and we agree) are under-appreciated. Needless to say, the chef shares his enthusiasm on both counts.
With Taylor in the kitchen and the highly professional and affable Perrow (who opened the West End's popular Le Brasserie) out front, Espana promises to be a potent force.
The two spared no elbow grease whipping the place into shape. The feel is airy and spacious thanks to a cream colour scheme that sets off the beautifully crafted Ironwood bar (made by a friend on Pender Island), which runs the length of the room. No open plan here, the kitchen and stores are concealed up a few stairs at the back of the narrow space.
On the menu, bold flavours march through plates with a balance of authenticity and no shortage of creativity, plus wines smartly chosen and well priced.
Even though you could easily label this a tapas bar, Perrow says they don't want to be branded as such and have plans to offer larger tastes as time goes on, starting with an authentic paella.
First tastes that impressed: a warm wilted spinach Catalan salad with pine nuts and raisins, which proved a good match for our glass of affordable Armonia Viura Verdejo; vibrant and zesty garlic-toned Andalusian gazpacho; perfectly textured, stove top finished onion and potato tortilla; and wonderfully rich sautéed duck livers, with hearty, contrasting rustic chorizo with quail egg on a bed of lentils-matched with a glass of Lustau Don Nuno Olorosso (sherry).
Elsewhere on the menu you can find crispy squid with mint yogurt, grilled scallop with romesco, spiced lamb with baba ghanoush and an array of charcuterie and cheese offerings, with most plates priced on the easy side of $10. This newbie's a long overdue addition. We can't wait to try more, and further research the sherry list.
Pair one the Okanagan's hottest wineries with a stellar caterer and chances are there'll be Joie Farm in the glass, with tastes from Joy Road Catering.
They had us at the earthy, supple and silky toned Pinot Noir Reserve 2010 (one of the best we've come across in recent years) perfectly paired with roasted wild mushrooms, $40 at the winery (duck optional).
An added bonus, the tasting I attended took place at Marché St. George (4393 St. George at 28th Avenue, 604565-5107), an unexpected coin de gourmandise in an East Van character house that makes it all the easier to track down such necessities as Double D Sausages, Farmhouse Cheeses and Birchwood Dairy products. email@example.com