Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
NEW WESTMINSTER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Suburbs are thought of as deserts for culture and cuisine. Not so on the west coast. Richmond, populated by immigrants from Hong Kong, has long been home to the best Chinese food in Canada. Now, another Vancouver suburb is giving foodies a reason to venture away from Coal Harbour and English Bay.
Thanks to talented and entrepreneurial chef Angus An, New Westminster has a dining experience that needs to be on any culinary traveller’s list of places to visit.
Last month, An opened Longtail Kitchen, a Thai restaurant whose dinner service includes an option for a cooking class and the opportunity to dine while An or a guest chef does it all, including busing the tables and pouring the wine.
“I want this to be like someone coming to a dinner party in my home,” says the likeable An, whose Maenam has been a hit in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood since it opened in 2009.
Longtail Kitchen a Thai Sensation
He says the concept of Longtail was inspired by dinners he has cooked for clients who hired him for private events that were sometimes held in their homes. The location adjacent to the River Market at the Westminster Quay, a mall overlooking the Fraser River, was also influenced by Maenam’s diners.
“A lot of my clients have moved out here, because Vancouver is too expensive,” An says. “So, I thought it made sense.”
The food is tremendous, bursting with flavours and grounded in the French cooking techniques that An honed under Normand Laprise of Toque! in Montreal and at the French Culinary Institute in New York. He also was a prominent cook in the kitchen at Nahm, a recently defunct Thai restaurant in London that once earned a coveted Michelin star.
At Longtail, the Pad Thai will be a revelation for western palates. It’s filled with fresh ingredients that will make it clear how we have been ripped off by impostor versions at chain eateries across the continent. The curries are exquisite and the aromas alone are intoxicating enough to be addictive.
Watching An cook and discuss every step in the process of making this refined comfort food is a true gift. It accomplishes two things: 1. Allows Thai food — and really any ethnic cuisine — to become more accessible. Once you see how it’s made, it’s more likely that visitors to Longtail will try to replicate at least some of the dishes. (Vancouverites are fortunate that most of the Thai ingredients in An’s recipes are available in grocery stores.); 2. It punctuates An’s house-party vision for the space. Knowing that parties often end up in the kitchen once people are comfortable, he starts his evening there with a cooking demonstration that is interactive and an instant ice breaker that sets the tone for the rest of the night.
Guests will also be surprised a chef of An’s stature can come across this friendly. He recently finished a cooking gig at the James Beard House in New York and with Longtail is reinforcing his position as one of Canada’s most innovative cooks. At lunch, Longtail takes advantage of the quay’s location, serving take-away meals that can be enjoyed along the river walk or in the food court outside the restaurant.
“I wanted to make Thai street food, to use the ingredients you only get over there in Asia and bring those authentic flavours into this market,” An says.
Longtail’s menu items have similar ingredients to what you will find at Maenam, but its atmosphere and dinner-service model is distinct, making it worth the trek to a part of British Columbia that visitors might otherwise overlook.
More About Longtail
Address: #116 810 Quayside Drive, New Westminster, BC
Menu Price Range: Less than $20 for all dishes.
You Must Order: The Pad Thai.
More About New Westminster
Getting There: New West is easily accessible on the SkyTrain. Take one of the eastbound lines (Millennium or Expo) on the commuter train and exit at the New Westminster stop. The ride will take about 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver (about the same amount of time as it will take to drive). Longtail and the Quay are a five-minute walk from the tracks. One-way adult fares start at $2.75.
Where to Stay: If you need a room for the night, the Inn at the Quay (1-800-663-2001) offers comfortable boutique accommodations that all have water views. Rates are about $175 per night in the summer months.