Re-establishing themselves in the culinary world

Published in The Vancouver Observer.

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

You may know the adage, but have you made any changes?

Establishment Lounge has recently undergone some big changes and continues to evolve on a regular basis these days. There biggest change lately has been bringing in Chef Victor Bongo as their executive chef.

Chef Bongo has a unique approach to food and a knack at pairing flavours in a creative way. His immaculate presentation, bold flavours and outgoing personality have brought the attention of newspapers and foodies throughout Vancouver.

He is so proud of his dishes that when I came in for a visit he actually wanted me to try everything on the menu. As tempting as the offer was I think the waitress shied him away from the idea, knowing very well that my stomach wouldn’t be able to handle it all. He not only wanted me to try everything on the menu but he invited me back to cook with him some time to see if the culinary world is actually where my heart lies. But for now, let’s just talk about his food.

Chef Bongo’s famous vegetarian African peanut soup

My wariness for anything claiming to be “famous” made this dish even more tempting to try. This soup, which previously was made with chicken, is one of the best vegetarian soups I’ve had at a restaurant. It’s creamy, rich and loaded with vegetables and peanuts that are diced and still crisp but cooked. This soup is a perfect light bite that doesn’t make you feel heavy despite it’s full body flavour. Chef Bongo opted for the vegetarian version shortly after he decided to test out vegetarianism and due to it’s overwhelming popularity it seems it might stay meat-free for a while.

Latin pan seared scallop served over chile morita on sweet corn cake with avocado mousse and chipotle aioli served with a mango pico de gallo

Cooked to perfection with an interesting pairing of flavours; there was a tropical feeling from the mango pico de gallo and a creamy kick from the chipotle aioli. It honestly felt like a shame to eat because it looked so perfect.

Black truffle saccottini pasta tossed in a vanilla galiano cream sauce served with sweet pea puree with merlot micro greens and fresh pancetta

After having a bite of this pasta I was thankful to have two pieces on my plate! They may be shareables but you might just want to keep these for yourself. Everything about this dish was spot on. The sweet vanilla cream sauce with the pea puree had me scraping every bit off of my plate. The pancetta bits were the perfect touch to make this an amazing dish adding the crunchy and salty texture that the otherwise soft dish needed.

Wild mushroom risotto ball, panko breaded and stuffed with Canadian Brie and truffle cheese on a garlic tomato sauce drizzled with balsamic glaze

Reading the description of this dish I didn’t think you could go wrong. It looked and sounded fantastic but the Brie wasn’t very strong and so the dish lacked the cheesy flavor that it promised. The dominant taste was the panko crust; crisp and delicious it still shouldn’t have been the primary flavour for this dish. The garlic tomato sauce was even a tad bland but the balsamic was a nice touch.

Okanagan goat cheese and fig soufflé on golden beet carpaccio drizzled with maple truffle vinaigrette

I was warned before I ate this dish that it would change my life. That’s a bold statement in any situation but particularly when referring to food. I scoffed at this comment like most people probably would but was curious nonetheless. I was sold after my first bite. It was light, fluffy, bursting with flavour from the goat cheese and fig and intensified with the hint of maple truffle vinaigrette. The beets added the texture and a great base for the soufflé.

Malaysian chicken satay

Compared to the other dishes I wasn’t overly excited by a skewer of chicken. The free-range chicken was moist but the dish itself paled in comparison to everything else on the menu. It’s served with their signature peanut sauce that isn’t too sweet and creates a very unique infusion when combined with exotic Malaysian spices.

Lobster and shrimp cake – triple almond crusted with chipotle aioli

Lobster cake is not typically what you see on a menu, rather you see crab, shrimp, prawn, salmon or even halibut if it’s in season. Incorporating lobster in his fried seafood patties was a way for Chef Bongo to set himself apart from the other restaurants in Vancouver, which he seems to strive to do on a regular basis. Whether it was the fact that he used lobster, or the fact that he cooked it to perfection and garnished it fantastically, the only obvious thing is that it was a tasty couple of bites. The triple almond crust is also unique and adds more in texture than it does in flavour while also making it feel healthier by retaining less grease.

Chef Bongo insists that salt and pepper are not on the table because he believes that if a chef is doing his job then he should accomplish the right amount of spice in the kitchen. I couldn’t agree more as it seems to be almost habitual for people to salt and pepper their dishes before even having their first bite. True to his belief Chef Bongo nails the right spice in almost every dish.

Raspberry chocolate unbaked mascarpone cheesecake garnished with mango coulis and fresh strawberries

This cheesecake is a light version of your regular cheesecake. It’s gelatinous texture turned me off at first, but it quickly grew on me and I found myself unable to stop until there was merely a few bites left. The mango coulis was a nice touch and like all of the other dishes it looked like a piece of art. Chef Bongo rotates his cheesecake varieties almost weekly so you never know what you’ll be getting until you’re already sitting down at the restaurant. Word is that the mango version is to die for.

As if one dessert wasn’t enough….

Pistachio crème brûlée – part of the trio on the menu – flavours have changed

If you like pistachios then you’ll like this. Its sweet, silky and torched delightfully to give you that crisp sugary top just waiting to broken in to pieces and eaten bite by bite. It’s even topped with pistachios. Would be great if alongside a chocolate version alternating with bites. Or maybe with a chocolate martini….

Sathi the bartender is a wizard behind the bar. Don’t expect a quick drink but prepare yourself for a cleverly crafted beverage that could take up to ten minutes, even on a slow day. Considering the fact that he has a caesar loaded with muddled vegetables, an espresso martini topped with fresh mascarpone cream and a strawberry shortcake martini made with a ton of muddled strawberries you won’t mind the wait. My favorites are the dessert martinis because they are unique, fun and fairly accurate representations of the dessert in liquid form, with alcohol.

Tiramisu martini

Tiramisu martini

Strawberry Shortcake martini

Strawberry Shortcake martini

Come for just a drink or a only a bite to eat at Establishment Lounge and you may be tempted to have both as you see the perfectly assembled tapas move from kitchen to table and the drinks from bar to hand.

The casual vibe, music from modern to Motown, a choice of couches, bar or tables and a top notch management team offer a desirable way to spend an hour or three grazing and sipping in comfort. Whether it’s a lazy afternoon, an early evening or a night cap you can be sure that you’ll be in for a mouth watering experience that is served in a photo quality manner every time.

For more information on Establishment Lounge or to see their menu check out their website. Stay tuned because an September 20th they’ll be launching a new fall menu for both food and drinks.

For more high resolution photos check out my Establishment Lounge gallery.

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