Opposites attract. Still, we were gobsmacked to hear that Vancouver’s Donnelly Group is partnering with David Gunawan, the chef and co-owner of Farmer’s Apprentice, in a new restaurant called Royal Dinette. This is the culinary equivalent of the humble country mouse shacking up with his cocky city cousin.
Set to open in mid-July, Royal Dinette will be a 75-seat farm-to-table restaurant in Vancouver’s Financial District, on the main floor of The Blackbird Public House & Oyster Bar.
Gunawan is one of Vancouver’s most famous chefs. His first restaurant, Farmer’s Apprentice, is a petite, whimsical mecca for fussy foodies. With a weekly changing menu, based on whatever the farmers dig out of the dirt, and dishes daintily plated with edible flowers, fresh herbs, infused oils and smoked hay, it’s Portlandia come to life.
He and his partner, Dara Young, recently opened a new wine bar, Grapes and Soda, with small dishes created to complement an obscure list of natural organic and biodynamic wines.
Royal Dinette will be similar, with a small seasonal menu, including a few house-made pastas. The restaurant space is currently being overhauled from tip to toe. Gunawan calls the design “androgynous, female-friendly, a little more fun, if you will.”
Well, it couldn’t sound more any more different than the current Donnelly Group collection of public houses, cocktail taverns and nightclubs. Their dark, manly rooms are sprinkled with taximdermy and shuffleboard games. The menus feature chicken wings and burgers. Bourbon and beer are the beverages of choice.
When the Blackbird opened, the main-floor bistro marked the group’s inaugural foray into fine dining. It was a disastrous experiment. Love or hate the Donnelly Group, it’s hard to avoid their restaurants. With more than 17 downtown pubs and nightclubs – more than Earls, Cactus Club and Joey combined – it’s the city’s largest entertainment purveyor.
So we definitely tip our hat to CEO Jeff Donnelly for taking such a bold new direction – and keeping his hands off. The Donnelly Group will be a silent investor.
“They surrendered the whole thing to us,” says Gunawan. (Donnelly declined an interview). “That was part of the contract, right from the initial verbal agreement.”
Gunawan says he doesn’t understand why people are scratching their heads over the odd coupling. To him, it’s a no-brainer. “The bigger space will give us the ability to support more farmers and commit to bigger growing areas. If I need to ask a farmer to plant 1,000 pounds of onions, now I can do that.”
Personally, we’re excited. Royal Dinette sounds like a welcome of breath of fresh air for Vancouver’s barren, corporate-dominated downtown dining-scape. Let’s just hope the Donnelly Group (and its infamous micro-management style) doesn’t suffocate it.
Will you hit up Royal Dinette? Leave us a comment below or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.