By Tim Pawsey
Nestled on the shores of Deer Lake, Hart House was built by Frederick Hart well over a century ago. The mock Tudor manor and immaculate gardens were privately owned and developed by the Moore family and others, over the better part of the last century, until being acquired by the City of Burnaby in 1979. The restaurant, which opened in 1988, offers an idyllic escape from the nearby bustle of Burnaby and Vancouver.
In many ways, Hart House’s dining history parallels the story and rise of regional cuisine in Vancouver. For years it specialized in the tried and true formula of continental cuisine, with a solid emphasis on roasted meats and grilled fare. In short, a protein lover’s paradise, with a cellar to match. More recently, though, the restaurant has changed course to embrace the notion of Pacific Northwest cuisine, perhaps no more so than today, with its kitchen in the hands of chef Mike Genest. “Our menu needs to appeal to a wide clientele,” says the chef, “we still appeal to the meat and potatoes crowd, but we’re also very much in tune with adventuresome foodies, who usually want to try something new,” he says.
Genest revels in the availability of local produce in season, often picked on the same day it’s served, from the likes of Maple Ridge’s Hannah Brook Farm, Barnston Island Herbs, or from local farms just up the road. “Sometimes it can be on the plate as part of our prix fixe menu in just a couple of hours,” he laughs.
The chef turns to his own garden as the season permits, and is always busy pickling and fermenting to put away as much of those true local flavours as possible for the winter and early spring. Much of Genest’s inspiration for preserving comes from world-renowned chefs such as Magnus Nilsson’s Fäviken, in the remote north of Sweden, on a 24,000-acre hunting estate. Nilsson serves a 20-course tasting menu to just 12 diners at a time, with every morsel sourced from the estate.
Very much homegrown himself, Genest hails from North Vancouver and learned his trade here but has travelled extensively to hone his skills. Starting out at just 18 years of age, he soon found himself on a three month master program to study Italian food and wine in Calabria. There, he says, he learned the true value of working with the best of local produce prepared with the utmost simplicity.
One indelible memory, and a dish which he loves to expand upon in a Northwest context, is squid ink spaghetti (al nero di seppio), which might emerge as risotto or ravioli, he claims, “to this day it’s one of the best pastas I’ve ever had in my life.”
Hart House Restauraunt
6664 Deer Lake Ave, Burnaby