Vancouver is at the cutting edge of a lot of culinary movements: the 100-mile diet, nose-to-tail dining, sustainable seafood and innovative fusion, to name a few. One trend that doesn’t get a lot of attention, however, is the phenomenon known as communal dining.
Think of communal dinners as summer camp meets the grown up world of fine dining. The traditional restaurant experience involves sitting at a table with friends and family. Each table is essentially an island unto itself and interaction is kept to a minimum. Communal dining turns that formula on its head. Groups of strangers sit side by side, often at long, shared tables. In many cases, a single dish is served to everyone, enhancing the communal experience.
I got a glimpse of Vancouver’s communal dining scene at The Irish Heather, a relatively new pub in Gastown. Every night, except Fridays and Saturdays, The Irish Heather hosts its Long Table Series. Guests sit at a single table that runs the entire length of the room. A single entree – usually drawn from traditional Irish fare – is served, paired with a Guinness or local microbrew.
Recession-proof pricing – dinners range from $15 to $17 per person (drink included) – has made the Long Table Series a hit, and groups as large as 50 people have been known to crowd into the pub for its communal dinners. On the night that I stopped by, a braised breast of veal with homemade mashed potatoes was on the menu. The turnout was small, only a dozen or so people, but I could instantly see the appeal.
Before the drinks arrived, I had already struck up a conversation with the diners to my left, a brother and sister originally from Newfoundland. He was in town singing with the Vancouver Bach Choir, who were performing Mahler’s epic Eighth Symphony. Meanwhile, I met a regular to my right who was originally from Spain by way of Ottawa. There was an openness and a kind of chummy camaraderie that made the experience much more memorable than an average dinner out.
Not to mention the food was homemade and lovingly prepared, a real steal considering that a burger and fries can easily set you back $15 in Gastown. Other places in Vancouver offering a variation on the communal dining experience include the Salt Tasting Room, specializing in wine and charcuterie, and YEW restaurant and bar in the Four Seasons hotel.
Any other recommendations for communal dining? Please let me know below.