– Words by Joanne Peters Photography by Lia Crowe
A menu that travels from ocean depths to open pastures, natural light pouring through floor-to-high-ceiling windows, glam forest-green and matte-gold accents, and all kinds of plants—tall, hanging, climbing, and lush. Across from Canada Place is one of the most exciting restaurants to open in Vancouver this year.
Even if you don’t know the Glowbal Restaurant Group by name, chances are you’ve dined at one of its hot spots: Glowbal, Trattoria, Coast, Black+Blue, or Italian Kitchen, to name a few. Now, the group founded by Egyptian-born restaurateur Emad Yacoub is adding Riley’s Fish & Steak to its portfolio, and it’s the jewel in the crown.
The restaurant takes its name from Sean Riley, Emad’s very first employee and executive chef, who used to work for him in Toronto and who rode his motorcycle across the country to help him open Glowbal over two decades ago. He remains an integral part of the company, where Top Chef Canada Season 7 competitor Dennis Peckham is GRG corporate chef.
Occupying and expanding the former home of Tourism Vancouver right near the cruise ship terminal, the 240-seat room, with a wine wall and bar facing the water, marries Coast’s focus on fresh fish and seafood from eastern and western waters (think everything from PEI pink moon oysters and Atlantic lobster to Haida Gwaii halibut and Qualicum Bay scallops) with Black+Blue’s expertise in Canadian and US prime beef.
Heading the kitchen is executive chef Jérôme Soubeyrand. Born and raised in Lyon, France, he brings years of experience in some of Europe’s best restaurants, eight of them Michelin-starred, to Vancouver, having previously held roles here at both Coast and Black & Blue.
He has worked alongside culinary authorities such as Paul Bocuse (who founded one of the world’s most rigorous international cooking competitions) and Daniel Boulud (a fellow Lyonnais native who has dining establishments in New York City, Dubai and beyond). Also among his colleagues is another Michelin-ranked chef, Joël Robuchon, who is credited for creating the best mashed potatoes in the world—and at Riley’s you can taste Jérôme’s take on the famous dish. Ask him how much butter is in it. Or better yet, don’t.
While Riley’s isn’t a French restaurant, there’s evidence of Jérôme’s classical training and technique all across the menu. Consider the shaved foie gras and red-wine jus that accompany steak and frites, the pillowy-soft indulgence of house-baked brioche (with garlic, Gruyère, whipped butter, smoked Maldon salt and lobster oil), the velvety tarragon-infused Béarnaise sauce as an option to go with char-grilled prime cuts; and lobster Thermidor, the toothsome meat cooked in a decadent wine sauce before being stuffed back into the shell and browned. Then there is Jérôme’s coq au vin. The elevated comfort dish of red-wine-braised chicken pieces with glistening pearl onions, densely flavourful forest mushrooms and thick strips of cured pork belly is especially close to the chef’s heart.
“I started cooking with my mother every Sunday for the family at a young age, which kickstarted my love for food,” Jérôme says. “The coq au vin reminds me of home and the meals that my mom would cook for my father. Where I grew up near Lyon there were a number of wineries, so coq au vin was a staple in our household.”
Other menu items that Jérôme is especially excited about are oysters Rockefeller (the mollusks baked with buttered spinach and topped with a rock-crab Béarnaise sauce) and Riley’s succulent, chilled seafood towers. The latter come in three variations (grand, deluxe and king), with delicacies like halibut ceviche, marinated mussels and clams, freshly shucked oysters and snow-crab legs.
“My overall vision for Riley’s has everything to do with exceeding our guests’ exceptions from the time they walk in the door to the time they leave,” Jérôme says. “I want them to think of Riley’s every time they travel to our city. I want them to feel they need to see us if they have a milestone to celebrate in their lives or if they’re trying to impress their friends or coworkers. My goal is to have our customers planning their next visit before they’ve even had dessert.”
While the chef sources local and seasonal ingredients as much as possible, he concedes that there are exceptions: “How can you turn down an incredible piece of Wagyu beef?” (Try the Wagyu carpaccio bedecked with smoked tomato jam, onion rings, Parmigiano Reggiano and served with chimichurri toast.)
There’s another part of Riley’s story that makes it unlike anything else in the city, and that is its wine program. Featuring one of the city’s largest selections of wines available by the glass, the restaurant has also introduced a new concept here: every single bottle (whether it’s Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris or Château Lafite Rothschild 2010 Pauillac) is listed at wine-store cost plus a $40 to $50 corkage fee, giving people access to some of the world’s best vintages at prices unheard of in the city’s dining scene.
“It will make it the most aggressive wine pricing for white-tablecloth service that Vancouver has ever seen,” Jérôme says.
Cocktails are another draw. Riley & The Beast is a signature concoction: floral and foamy with Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla gin, St. Germain, rose water and honey lemon, it’s garnished with a ruby-red wafer of dehydrated raspberry and a diminutive Persian rosebud. Cucumber Pivot, a refreshing if potent mix of Ketel One Cucumber Mint vodka, Aperol honey, sparkling wine and lemon, is Instagrammable with a sprig of thyme hugging the tall glass and attached with the world’s teeniest clothing pin.
At press time, Riley’s had just launched, offering dinner service (and live music nightly) and happy hour, with lunch and brunch on the horizon. As for what the future holds, who knows? Only the sea, forests, farms and imaginations are the limit.
“We’re going to keep pushing forward and evolving,” Jérôme says. “What I love most about my work is the adrenaline of service, the anticipation of a busy night, and seeing happy customers enjoying my team’s hard work.”