Introducing Royal Dinette, the new model for dining in Downtown Vancouver: a sophisticated yet unintimidating restaurant where the farm-forward menu is as fresh as it is approachable.
The first thing that strikes you when you step inside Royal Dinette is the little details—the reclaimed, whitewashed cedar planks that adorn the seats, the brass accents, the marble tiled floors, and the canned goods and preserves displayed like works of art alongside local art pieces. There’s seating (on upholstered leather chaises and banquettes) for 70 at stone-table tops, and at the chef’s counter and bar, there are separate stations for fresh pasta, butchery and pastry, and an open kitchen where you can watch as Chef David Gunawan and his team carefully prepare and plate one exceptional dish after another. This is a dinette, yes, but one that seems to have been teleported from a bygone era and landed in Vancouver’s Financial District.
In-the-know Vancouverites will recognize Gunawan’s culinary philosophy—the same one that drives the sustainable food focused menus at his other two restaurants—in his approach at Royal Dinette. “At Farmer’s Apprentice, we strive to provide innovative, minimalist and accessible, yet intellectually stimulating food in a casual, disarming environment,” says Gunawan. “We also promote interactions between the staff and guests as our chefs serve the dishes at each table. At Grapes & Soda, each table has drawers to keep people away from their phones and encourage conversations about the food and wine. Royal Dinette can be seen as a service to the Downtown Vancouver community because we exemplify the notion that true farm-to-table cuisine isn’t just for small spaces like Farmer’s Apprentice or Grapes & Soda but can be feasible and accessible to a larger crowd.”
We chatted with Gunawan about his quickly growing restaurant empire.
3 Restaurants, 3 Menus, 1 Philosophy
Farmer’s Apprentice tends to be a more emotionally and intellectually stimulating space, Grapes & Soda is a “nerdier” affair for true vino aficionados where we pair our natural, organic and biodynamic wines and artisanal craft cocktails with food (rather than vice versa), and Royal Dinette takes the same farm-to-table approach but brings it to a wider audience while still offering a simple, comforting atmosphere.
Chef’s Tasting Menu Inspired by the Seasons
The tasting-menu concept started at Farmer’s Apprentice as a way for the chefs to create a culinary experience for each guest. At Royal Dinette, each revision of our menu is dictated by the availability of the ingredients and the environment. We constantly adjust the weight and tone of our dishes according to the weather system — when it is sunny and breezy we tend to skew light and fresh, but when it is cloudy and wet we lean towards a heavier, more comforting type of cuisine. At the heart of what we do is the belief that good quality and locally sourced food should be accessible and available to everyone, and a tasting menu allows our guests to trust in us as chefs to create for them a true experience for the senses.
Farm-to-Table, Not Just a Trend
Every choice we make affects the state of our planet and humanity, from the clothes that we choose to wear to the vehicle we drive to the food and water that we consume. I’m happy that there seems to be a more general awareness these days of the footprints that we all make in the world on a daily basis and how we can best mitigate the potential consequences that our actions and habits will not only have on our environment now but in the long term.
We try not to shove information down [diner’s] throats. Instead, at all three restaurants we try to create a narrative and encourage conversations about each dish. From the spark of inspiration to the fresh-daily ingredients we feature through to the empty plate, we aim to create an ongoing dialogue about sustainability and seasonality between our guests, chefs and local producers.
The Donnelly Group, (Mostly) Silent Partners
Royal Dinette came about as a result of a partnership that was built upon an existing friendship as well as a common goal and desire: to create a new restaurant in the downtown core where an ever-changing menu places a premium on quality, value and seasonality. I have the vision, they have the resources, and at the juncture of those two lines is where the concept of Royal Dinette was born.
I had free reign when it came to the menu but we also worked hand-in-hand during the planning and development stages as the Donnelly Group has more extensive experience with establishing restaurants in the downtown core as well as the resources to design a space and the marketing strategy to reach a wider audience.
The Royal Decor Treatment
“Dinette” is typically a small space within a dwelling, usually alongside a kitchen, that is used for informal dining. The “Royal” is a nod to the fact that while we try to evoke the authentic feel of a roadside diner by featuring whimsical elements like upholstered seats and banquettes paired with accents of brass, steel and tile, we also aim to add an air of elegance in presentation, flavour and service.
The designer of the space is Reisa Pollard of Beyond Beige Interior Design, who worked alongside Milltown Contracting and Glasfurd & Walker to incorporate our vision of creating a timeless space that still evokes an old-world feel. From using reclaimed, whitewashed cedar planks for the seats to the stone-top tables to the jars of canned goods and preserves that line the walls, it is meant to reflect our farm-forward, from-the-ground-up philosophy in both look and feel.
When I first envisioned Royal Dinette, I told the designers that I wanted to evoke the eclectic feel and laidback, understated approachability of a bygone diner but still incorporate an air of elegance in presentation, flavour and service. I put my complete trust in them to bring that vision to life and am thrilled with the results.
Photos: Fred Fung, Be Moved Media