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Where is the wow factor on Hawksworth?

Had dinner with my wife in Hawksworth. We had maple bacon sweetbreads & 48 hr beef shortrib as appetizers; yarrow meadows duck breast & fraser valley pork belly as main dishes. The service is good. Every plates are very well displayed; the food is ... good, but, not really great.

I recall 2 years ago, we had dinner at West, everything are just taste great. This time, we just don't feel the "wow" factor in Hawksworth! Am I expecting too much? Or is that my taste for food getting "numb"?

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  1. I was there recently. I wasn't wowed either. I suspect that, perhaps like yourself, I am getting a bit jaded. I'll go again....but I'm in no rush.

    1. I agree. I enjoyed it but there are certainly better restaurants in the city.

      1. I wasn't wowed but I thought it was very good, save the service which was like a bunch of puppies running around. I think it needs a few months.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Anne M

          That's a good way of putting the service Anne M :-)

          We went a few weeks ago for our anniversary dinner. To be honest, I can't remember much about the food (we had the tasting menu) as too many service glitches got in the way. They didn't seem to be acting as a team and I got a 'not my department' attitude from our server when I asked about one issue.

          I'm giving it a good while before I return - but will likely visit their bar in the meantime - that looked quite inviting.

          1. re: kinnickinnik

            I've been there numerous times and never had a problem with the service...except in the bar.

        2. I had the tasting menu as well. Couple of wow dishes, couple of very good. My biggest issue was with the noise-level. Table of 4 on a Wed night and the place was deafening. We all were having to lean in and borderline shout to hear each other.

          1. We went to Hawksworth last week as a group of six. The room was beautiful. The crowd was sophisticated. The service was attentive and impeccable. Dishes, unfortunately, were hit and miss. Started out of the gates with fabulous wow factor salads and appetizers (Octopus salad special had a brillant balance of smokiness, heat, acidity and textures) and downgraded to ok entrees with a few at the table being big disappointments. My bacon wrapped duck, wild rice and edamame entree (another special) tasted like a Lean cuisine (something tasted artificial in there). It was way too earthy to be palatable and I could not finish the plate. The biggest disappointment by far were the desserts. The dessert menu, oversimplified down to four key words per item,, needed elaborate explanation by our waiter to make any sense. As a table of six we ordered almost the entire dessert menu and except for a plate of macarons, there was nothing memorable... Ok one thing - - the spearamint gel accompanying the chocolate ganache reminded me in taste, appearance and texture to gel toothpaste -- but that was not memorable in a good way. I really really wanted to love this place especially given the start of the meal. We may return in hopes that the next time the brilliance would be carried through the whole meal - though the second time we will order much more cautiously.

            1 Reply
            1. re: lunchslut

              I am not any great judge of higher end restaurants but I am gettting a bit tired of places that can only do appetizers well and just fall down on the mains, never mind the desserts.

            2. For starters, I admit that I have a great bias when it comes to David Hawksworth, who convinced me during his tenure at West that his level of creativity and attention to detail separated him from pretty much every other fine dining venue in Vancouver. That said, I share some of the reactions of those who commented here thus far. On the one hand, the room certainly is noisy -- David and Chad (the restaurant manager) are well aware of the issue and have plans to fix the problem. And the plates coming from the kitchen can be inconsistent. I could add that I still do not understand why they insist on charging for bread -- after all, the quality of the bread is a tip off to the quality of the restaurant.

              On the other hand, I have found the service to be improving as it gets its sea legs -- and right now it works as well as at the old West. And the restaurant's commitment to wine and wine service is extraordinary -- setting it apart from much of the competition. If you are in doubt, just try one of their impossible to find New Zealand pinot noirs.

              In the end, what needs to be understood is that the restaurant still is a vastly ambitious work in progress, not to mention the catering operation, the banquet facility, the cafe and serving three meals a day. Give it time. If you go, talk to David and Chad about what they can do better. I cannot imagine that once all facets of the business have matured, Hawksworth will not have earned its place at the top of the Vancouver gastronomic pecking order.

              11 Replies
              1. re: Peter Rodgers

                I agree with the gist of what you are saying. I have dined there three times and the service has been great each time - almost apologetic for not being instantaneous, as a matter of fact. However, the food there seems a little dated to me - smacks of the 90's with its sweet sauces, trendy ingredients, and over-embellished platings. Hawkworth's Asian fusion angle - which was innovative during stint at West also feels a bit passé. Maybe it is time to move on. I'm not in any rush to go back, but I will be monitoring his menu on a regular basis to see if something actually interesting comes up.

                1. re: Peter Rodgers

                  I appreciate your loyalty Peter but (tired old rebuttal that it is) customers are paying full price for what you describe as a work in progress.
                  It's certainly daunting to juggle a hotel food service with all it's different facets but the brain trust had literally years to research, travel and work out the blueprint for Hawksworth. I know, I know it's all theory until you hit the ground but these are high functioning, well payed individuals with a huge budget behind them so the sympathy vote is not going to be very strong.

                  In the scheme of things what we have here is a fairly innovative high end restaurant run by a talented chef (certainly not an El Bulli level where the genre was being recreated on a daily basis). As such it boils down to professionals getting things working in a timely manner.

                  As for the noise problems: What really grinds me is when a restaurant with a seriously large budget (who obviously worked with pro designers) failed to either understand what any average person knows about surfaces and sound - or what is more likely sold out the diners comfort for an architectural statement. This happens time and again!
                  Even when you have to work with what is already there the means are available to create a comfortable and attractive ambiance with the aid of skilled professional acoustic engineers.

                  I give the local coffee shop/neighbourhood cafes a pass when they go noisy minimal to save on a skimpy budget but when I'm paying a higher ticket for entry it should guarantee me a more pleasant experience.
                  Rant over ;0

                  1. re: eatrustic

                    Restaurant acoustics - now there's a topic worthy of discussion! The trendy restaurant designers here (e.g. Evoke or Stanghetta) have a bias towards designing spaces with lots of smooth hard surfaces. No absorptive materials to dampen the acoustics. Nice to the eyes, but just brutal to the ears.

                    Hawksworth was designed by Munge & Leung (TO) - and if you have a look at their portfolio, they tend towards that same type of design (hard surfaces, industrial fixtures, reclaimed what-have-you, parallel walls, etc.).

                    It usually isn't the actual sound volume that's the problem - it is the reflections that ricochet off the walls, floors and ceilings that render conversations at the table unintelligible - which then forces diners yell at each other while being only a couple of feet away. They all need to get the help of an acoustician. Again...a conversation for another thread....but please you guys stop designing restaurants without the acoustics in mind! (Rant over!)

                    1. re: fmed

                      I'm visiting Vancouver in late June and had planned to have dinner at one of the better restaurants in the city. I'd settled on Hawksworth as my choice given the pedigree of the chef and the accolades awarded to the restaurant by the local media. However, I'm reconsidering after reading actual diner reviews that paint a picture of a restaurant that is very hit or miss and more concerned with image and "the scene" rather than being a top class restaurant. Is Hawksworth a good choice for a fine dining-styled dinner in Vancouver or are there better options available? Is my perception of the restaurant off-based?

                      I have to admit that when I read about the charge for bread I almost canceled my reservation right there.

                      1. re: michaelstl

                        Keep in mind that Vancouver diners had very high expectations of Hawksworth. Perhaps for a visitor less familiar with this city's style and palate, it might just do the trick.

                        For more casual atmosphere and good food, I like L'Abattoir. It is still pretty sceney.

                        1. re: michaelstl

                          My only experience with Hawksworth was during Dine Out, so I'm not sure if it's entirely fair to judge - that said I had a great meal at the time, including an outstanding sunchoke veloute and a completely off the charts bizarre dessert (masala granola, tomato granita, passionfruit, and I think there was some white chocolate in there). Methinks the pastry chef was given a bit too much artistic licence with that one, but it was fun to try and definitely memorable.

                          I think Fraiche has the wow factor, innovation and intimacy that Hawksworth falls short on. Chef Alvarez goes well out of his way to source unusual ingredients and techniques. The downside is it's hard to get to (in West Van) so I think it's often overlooked.

                          1. re: reiney

                            I feel like I should stand up for Hawksworth... I have had some really memorable and delicious food there, and the rooms are absolutely stunning.

                            IMO it's worth a visit just for the Hotel Georgia cocktail, and the rest is just gravy. Admittedly, the best meal I have had there was a long, luxurious lunch, so that might be a better choice than dinner, when the room is more crowded and noisy.

                            1. re: StarryFork

                              I'm planning to try their burger soon which I think is only at brunch/lunch so will test your theory, SF :-)

                              1. re: grayelf

                                One of the best burgers in town is hiding under an overly sweet BBQ sauce. Here is a tip: Ask for the burger served plain (and definitely without the cloyingly BBQ sauce) and medium-rare.

                                1. re: fmed

                                  Thanks for the tip -- I generally despise what is labelled barbeque sauce so would likely have eschewed it but now I have full confidence to do so -- and plain you say, interesting...

                                  1. re: grayelf

                                    Oh how I wanted to love the Hawksworth burger! But it was not to be. Despite being able to order it as I wished, it just didn't have the beefy flavour, char or overall satisfaction I was looking for. It certainly is photogenic, however, and beat the heck out of the identically priced burger at Edible Canada. The elderflower sour that we ordered to go with it was the (alchohol-free) highlight of our recent brunch.

                  2. Brunch was mediocre. Bagel & Lox on soft multigrain bagel -- what the fuck Davey?

                    Hamburger not that exciting -- about a 6/10 (about the same enjoyment as one from Earls).

                    Others enjoyed their food more (esp. my dad who only had a poached egg), and el wife had some pasta which she said was fantastic.

                    Service was not bad, not great. Didn't really recover well from my complaint about the soft multigrain bagel -- not to dwell, but that deserved to be mentioned on the menu, might I suggest "house-smoked wild sockeye salmon served on a crappy multigrain bagel"