One of the most-anticipated restaurants to open in Vancouver this year has finally begun serving its upscale German fare in trendy Gastown. Bauhaus has the potential to usher in a new chapter in local fine dining.
Bauhaus is the creation of film director Uwe Boll. The German native has called Vancouver home for some time now, and he prides himself on being a passionate local foodie. Boll brought in Michelin-starred chef Stefan Hartmann to man the stoves at Bauhaus, which occupies the majestic corner space that was previously Boneta.
Inside, the restaurant radiates with a polished, contemporary gloss that is flecked with spectacular details one would expect from a visionary with a cinematic background. At each place setting a knife sits diagonally on a custom-designed hand-carved wooden tray that at first glance suggests a tautly folded napkin. High, wide windows blur the lines between inside and outside, close enough for someone, say, the chef, to jokingly mistake a passerby for a German politician (followed by riotous laughter).
Boll’s passion for and pride in Bauhaus is evident in both his discussion of the project and as he eagerly shows off unique features in the restaurant’s decor, including the evocative and colourful graffiti-inspired art in the three washrooms, and the old bank vault that houses extra napkins and tableware–but also boasts a few old-time bullet holes.
“I wanted that clear-cut restaurant, you know?” says Boll. “Where you don’t have distractions. You eat, and you socialize, but you don’t need here a big vase with flowers, and here a sculpture and five paintings from your grandma.”
Both Boll and Hartmann admit that they are fighting a lot of preconceived, and often limited, notions of what German cuisine is. Hearty sausages, sauerkraut, pretzels, and beer, perhaps. “That’s Bavaria. Most people think of Bavaria in terms of German food […] but that’s not like what it really is,” explains Hartmann. Boll is eager to turn his customers on to new foods, foods he is certain they will love, in addition to some of the more familiar classics.
Hartmann and Boll are proud of the high-quality Wienerschnitzel Bauhaus serves, but in a way lament that even their German customers, perhaps in some fit of nostalgia, opt to order it up rather than venture into the a la carte territory of vibrant, refined, seasonal fare Hartmann is creating. (Boll had a saltier name for the schnitzel-eating customers, his joking barb delivered with a big laugh.)
The best option, urges Boll, is to come in and shed the Vancouver chain mentality and sit down and savour Bauhaus’ tasting menu. Taking the time is essential, though; there are six courses ($110) that emerge from the kitchen at a pace that demands patience.
Hartmann elaborates on the philosophy of the tasting menu from the diner’s angle:
“The tasting menu is just something like when you have time. When you have a partner you can talk to. That is very important. If you sit together with the tasting menu with a person you don’t really like you will have a bad evening. You should have some nice friends just enjoying the thing. You know this like what the tasting menu is about.”
“I love to give the chef the creativity to show what he really can do,” adds Boll.
Tastings menus aren’t necessarily a familiar dining practice in Vancouver, though Hartmann is quick to point out Vancouverites are well-versed in the “tasting menu” kind of eating that happens at our sushi bars, or when dining family style at Chinese restaurants. But fine dining isn’t something Vancouver is currently known for. Chefs across the city seem to have been heralding its return of late, and all eyes have been on the celebrated Hawksworth since its debut, in hopes that perhaps the “white tablecloth” era is coming back into vogue with Vancouver’s more traditionally laid-back dining out regulars.
Boll’s interpretation of “fine dining,” mind you, isn’t about price points (he’s quick to point out the high price of a steakhouse meal in Vancouver, where the sides are at an additional cost to the main event meat), or white tablecloths (there are no table cloths in Bauhaus) but a level of service built on the modern European model, where the cornerstone is hospitality.
At Bauhaus, diners receive bread service, an amuse bouche, water service, and sweets to nibble on after the meal for no additional cost. Boll considers those “extras” to be built into the pricing of the menus, which have a variety of iterations for lunch, bar snacks, and dinnertime.
But beyond the tangibles, Boll wants to cultivate an elevated atmosphere of customer service, where regulars are recognized (perhaps even bestowed with a free drink) and appreciated for their loyalty. The room was designed to keep the focus on food, from the open kitchen to the more sparse decor, and to give patrons a place to return to, time and again, to try new dishes, and create a new go-to spot.
Boll is just hoping to get the buzz going, and to have those customers coming in and giving Bauhaus a try.
The restaurant business has proven to be a new kind of challenge for Boll, who is no stranger to criticism, but has never put out a creative project that is a living, breathing, and on-going entity that doesn’t necessarily give the same two hours’ experience at every encounter, like one of his films.
“It’s a harder than I thought,” admits Boll about being a restaurateur. He says there were frustrations from the get-go with the build-out of the space, and permit delays, and even with the doors open he still needs to be there much of the time to ensure things are running smoothly and in line with his direction.
“I thought ‘Oh we’re finally open, then it gets easier.’ That was the hope right? Then you open and you recognize you have something in your head, also, how it should be, and then the crew comes in and they don’t it that way,” observes Boll. “I never planned to be here every day, but I’m okay with it for the first few months. But then it has to also work without me, because if I take off , make a movie or whatever, it would be bad.”
Boll says he’s had to urge Hartmann to not yell at his kitchen staff during dinner service, but also understands that chefs have a need to ensure things are being prepared a certain way, and that cooks and waitstaff in the cellphone era can be prone to making some pretty boneheaded (and costly) moves during their shifts.
When it comes to what dishes are coming out of the kitchen, Hartmann is pleased to be presenting seasonal fare using local ingredients and classic German and European techniques. Hartmann says the growing seasons are quite similar between western Canada and Germany, and his recipes easily adapted to variables in the produce or what particular kind of white fish is coming from local waters, for example.
Black cod with cucumber, goat cheese strudel, arctic char with a smoked cauliflower puree that inspires Hartmann to rhapsodize quite a bit, and an elevated chicken fricassee, are all dishes on the current menu that showcase the best of the season and Hartmann’s refined style. Come winter, expect a shift to heartier, richer fare.
Over at the bar, imbibers will appreciate the competitively-priced cocktails, among them the intriguing contemporary German Buttermilch Margarita (tequila, buttermilk, fresh lime and lemon, agave nectar, and quince jam), and a short list of custom in-house creations. The restaurant boasts a wine cellar stocked with BC wines, and their thoughtful wine menu also includes high quality wines served by the glass.
In this city of “foodies,” Boll has high expectations for Bauhaus to meet the needs of Vancouver’s restaurant-hungry eaters, but also give them something new with what he believes it great value. He’s glad to be in Gastown, a stone’s throw from PiDGiN, and nearby to a handful of high-profile restaurants that have helped change the tastes of not only the evolving neighbourhood, but also the entire city.
“I believe in Gastown,” attests Boll. “That [it] will grow into the nightlife, basically, [and be the] centre of the city. It is maybe already, but it will be even better in maybe four or five years.”
Does Vancouver, and Gastown believe in Boll, and Bauhaus? The restaurant will have to draw the crowds and good reviews, and build the loyal clientele Boll imagines, in order to not just survive, but thrive.
Address: 1 West Cordova Street, Gastown
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner 5:30 to 11:30 p.m.