By Willem Thomas
VANCOUVER – Regardless of what a Lonely Planet guidebook may have suggested, there’s much more to Spanish cuisine than what many visitors to the Catalonia region may have tried after being dragged into tourist trap tapas restaurants on Las Ramblas in Barcelona. Fortunately, Vancouverites can now dine out on Spanish cuisine locally that can hold a wine glass to some of the best food Catalonia has to offer. Forget the paella.
Tempranillo, located on Carrall Street a few doors down from multiple drunken-revelry focused establishments, is a comparatively intimate, 25-seat space resembling a modernist take on a rustic Mediterranean restaurant. Guests have the option between a few tables or seats with a direct view of the action (it’s a one-room restaurant — the “kitchen” is right behind the bar) at the long, gorgeous bar made of 100 year old reclaimed oak.
“We’re not really a tapas place,” explains co-owner and chef Bill Robitaille, “There’s so much more to Spanish cuisine than patatas bravas or paella. It’s like going to Italian restaurants and only ever ordering pizza or pasta.” Tempranillo’s cuisine is primarily Catalonian, with some Basque influence. The menu offers a mixture of traditional Spanish dishes and creative “just Spanish-inspired” items, with a healthy number of vegetarian-friendly options. While they aim to use mostly local fresh meat and produce, they import much of the high-quality dry goods from Spain directly.
Newly opened in June, the eatery is the dream joint Robitaille has been planning to open for years. “Tempranillo was my first brainchild in 2008, after I got back from working in Spain,” he says. Inspired by a wine bar he visited in Madrid called El Tempranillo (“I did a good four or five hours in that joint, it was a fun time. I liked the name and the atmosphere,”), he almost immediately put together a business plan and menu, but was forced to move on. “I couldn’t find the right space for it anywhere, and had to gave up on it.”
He then met now business partner Scott McTavish, who was operating an Italian wine bar called Notturno Paninoteca. Robitaille got on board and the two rebranded as just Notturno, switching the focus to cocktails and small plates. After a three-year run, Robitaille decided to switch up the concept entirely to Kappo-style Japanese, renaming as Kozakura. And finally, the same location now houses Tempranillo. “I knew I would eventually get to it,” Robitaille says.
For Tempranillo, service has been steady since opening and reception warm. “We had a guest from Spain in recently who has lived in Vancouver for two years,” Robitaille says. “He said it was the closest to food from home he’s had since he left. That’s about the biggest compliment you can get.”
Tempranillo is located at 280 Carrall Street.Gastown, Restaurants, Tempranillo