Jeffrey and Jamie Lenz didn’t plan on opening a modern Irish restaurant in Vancouver, but it seems like their just-opened Forkhill House was fated to be.
A longtime restaurant industry vet, Jeffrey Lenz had been looking to venture into his own project for a couple of years now. Most recently behind the scenes at the venerable Joe Fortes and previously Cibo and UVA, Jeffrey kept his eye out for available spaces, and when the former Fat Badger on Alberni became available, the Lenzes were drawn to the venue.
The next part, attest the Lenzes, was one part crazy and one part tied deep to the family tree. Jeffrey turned to his wife and said “Let’s open an Irish restaurant.”
The family tree part is what Jamie brings to the table. Her family came to Canada from Ireland in the early 1900s, starting a turkey farm in Maple Ridge (that has since grown to include a butcher shop, which is still family-run, and from where Forkhill sources some of their meat). They are farm and food folk of all stripes, and the endearing vintage portraits that adorn the wall of the brightened up two-storey home that is Forkhill House are Jamie’s actual family.
Forkhill House–a perfect moniker that nods to both the Irish village and the space itself–has undergone a livening up, decor-wise, from the dark and chalkboard-walled Fat Badger, which had a brief but popular run as an upscale pub. They’ve cut the overgrowth to let the light in the big harbour-facing windows, added a soft off-white paint, and added delicate touches, like vintage tea cups and saucers.
While Forkhill House calls on family for the concept and food, the team is also somewhat of a “family” affair–at least the kind of family bonds that happen in the hospitality industry. On the management team is Alex Dewar, who worked alongside Jeffrey at Cibo and UVA, and in the kitchen is Executive Chef Tannis Smith, with whom Jeffrey worked at Gastown’s Al Porto. The two ladies were Jeffrey’s first and second phone call, says the proprietor, when the Forkhill project was forming.
Smith, who perfected her knowledge of Irish fare during time spent at the stoves of the Irish Heather, deftly handles a cuisine with which many are only familiar with its most iconic–and stereotypical–dishes.
To that end, Jamie Lenz said she wanted to do an Irish restaurant without any cabbage on the menu. Say whaaa? Yep. Nary a cabbage leaf in sight. No kale, either. That’s how a dish like their massive, tender, richly flavoured lamb shank ended up on the plate with glistening crispy-soft brussels sprouts. There’s some Irish green to get your eyes smiling!
The menu melds more traditional Irish flavours and ingredients with their contemporary Pacific Northwest counterparts; it’s taking Ireland and reimagining it through the lens of present-day British Columbia.
There are steamed mussels, piled in a garlicky and tomato-y broth, studded with slices of subtly spiced chorizo (from Jamie’s family shop). That same chorizo shows up on their Irish charcuterie, complete with a veiny Guinness cheese imported from the Emerald Isle.
There are hearty mains, like the lamb shank, and appies like a Scotch egg wrapped with Parmesan -crusted fennel sausage. The duck breast comes with a Baileys Bernaise sauce, and their “Bang the Duchess” includes English banger sausages (and sauerkraut, which is the only way you’ll see cabbage). Come dessert, get a peek of the casual indulgence of a fun cheese and chocolate plate, inspired by the Lenzes’ own favourite way to treat themselves (after the kids have gone to bed).
Forkhill House also serves up lunches, as well as wallet-friendly Happy Hour eats and drinks, and offers group dining specials and canapes for special bookings (their downstairs second dining room is a great space for such a gathering, party-planners take note).
On Sundays, Forkhill House dishes up a modern Sunday dinner special; past dishes so far have included Porchetta (pork roast), roast turkey, and Prime Rib. The meal is priced around $20 to $28, and they’ll share what’s on the menu via social media.
From the bar, look for a range of whiskies from Ireland, Scotland, the US, and Canada, as well as specialty house cocktails like the High T, which looks like a demure cuppa but really packs the wallop of Buffalo Trace Bourbon, black tea simple syrup, and white grapefruit.
For a lighter touch, sip on the dangerously drinkable Rosemary Fizzlet, which includes gin, rosemary, rose, and lime, with the fizz courtesy Prosecco. Besides other cocktails, like their Caesar, Forkhill has import Irish and English beers, too.
Forkhill House is open seven days a week, serving lunch from 11:30 am to 3 pm, Happy Hour from 3 to 6 pm, and dinner from 5 to 10(ish) pm.
Address: 1616 Alberni Street, Vancouver