By ALEXANDRA GILL
Special to The Globe and Mail
Thursday, April 12, 2018
VANCOUVER -- H2 Rotisserie & Bar and H Tasting Lounge
1601 BAYSHORE DR., WESTIN BAYSHORE HOTEL, VANCOUVER
Phone: 604-682-3377 Website: westinbayshore.com Cuisines: rotisserie chicken, bar and afternoon tea Prices: Whole chicken with two sides, $42; afternoon tea, $55 a person Additional Info: H2 open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; H Tasting Lounge open daily from 11:30 a.m. (noon on Saturday and Sunday) until late. Reservations accepted.
Casual dining Zero stars
On March 14, 1972, Howard Hughes moved into Vancouver's Westin Bayshore hotel (then called the Bayshore Inn) and stayed for six months.
The eccentric recluse took command of the top four floors but was never seen outside his threeroom penthouse suite. He didn't once speak to hotel staff members, who were forbidden from even looking at him.
Perhaps the staff members now working at the Bayshore's new Hughes-inspired H Tasting Lounge have taken a page from that old training manual, because we've been sitting here for 10 minutes and cannot, for the life of us, get anyone's attention.
It's Friday, around 9 p.m. We wandered over to the hotel for cocktails after dinner at a nearby friend's place. It's a swanky artdeco room appointed with goldbrass screens, a central waterfall glass chandelier, marble tables and low-slung cube chairs upholstered in baby blue and dustyrose velvet. There is a live jazz trio playing in the corner. The lights are dim.
It's a big space (155 seats) and about one-third full, but the servers don't seem particularly busy.
So we sit and wait and stare at the servers who are doing absolutely nothing, hoping they might catch our thirsty glances. Finally, my friend walks over and asks for menus. The server takes her sweet time bringing them to the table. A confusing conversation about Clamato ensues. She walks away without taking our order. Fed up, we walk out and go next door to Cardero's.
The hotel's recent food and beverage reboot, which includes H Tasting Lounge and the more casual H2 Rotisserie & Bar (a multipurpose space that also serves as a takeout café), was designed for customers like us - locals, who may have forgotten how beautiful the property is, tucked against the Seawall with stunning views of Coal Harbour.
Come summer, there will also be a new patio attached to the lounge. Both restaurants offer live music every night. Last month, the lounge launched afternoon tea. There are lots of new reasons to visit.
Unfortunately, the service is some of the most apathetic I've ever seen in this city. And until they tighten that up, it really doesn't matter how much gold leaf is applied to $20 cocktails; the Westin Bayshore will remain, in most people's minds, the kind of low-rent hotel that services graduation parties for high schools that have been banned from the Four Seasons.
"You can't drink that here! Get out!"
It's Saturday night, the following weekend, and a flustered concierge is shooing away a gaggle of young guests in cowboy hats and micro-miniskirts who are chugging vodka coolers beside a 1954 Porsche 356 Speedster parked in the lobby.
It's a weird, incongruous scene, the kind that might be expected when classic Hollywood glamour is mixed with wedding parties from Abbotsford - but nothing compared to what happens later.
H2 Rotisserie & Bar is about as plain as H Tasting Lounge is fancy.
It's a standard cafeteria-style hotel restaurant with white tables, a long sideboard for the breakfast buffet, a cluttered service station beside the bar and high chairs for toddlers - of which there are several here tonight.
The dinner menu offers something for everyone - crab cakes, beef carpaccio, braised lamb shanks, maple-glazed salmon.
The signature dish is rotisserie chicken. And it is excellent chicken - darkly spice-rubbed, goldenskinned and juicy throughout.
Roasted fingerling potatoes are crispy yet plush. Fries are thickcut and liberally showered in Maldon salt. Baby carrots glazed with honey are sweet and crunchy. Pan gravy is thick, smooth and deeply layered with good stock.
Our server is friendly and patient. The kitchen expeditor is also very cordial when we amble over to look at the rotisserie, which is actually just a display model. The big one is in the back, where the rest of the kitchen staff must be working, because this guy is all by himself. It actually seems strange that he's not doing anything, but the restaurant isn't very busy, only a quarter-full.
There is, however, a lineup of six people outside.
"Come back in 30 minutes," the manager tells them.
They look confused. "All those seats are empty," one says, pointing to the bar. "Can't we come in for a drink?" "No, if you don't have a reservation, we cannot accommodate you," she says, all sweaty and panicky. "I don't have enough staff. We have too many big parties. The kitchen is overwhelmed.
We have a very nice lobby lounge.
You can go there for a drink."
Is she serious? She is.
Nobody heeds her advice and goes to the lobby lounge except us.
It's just as well they don't bother. In the lounge, it takes us approximately half an hour to get a drink.
There is so much booze in the brandy-flamed crêpes Suzette and baked Alaska that we don't even need the drinks. While the tableside desserts are a nice touch, they don't compensate for the style-over-substance cocktails. The House of Fabergé ($21), served in an ice egg cracked at the table, is watery. The throat-burning Alaska Cocktail No. 2 ($19), served with a hand-carved "iceberg," is clear and obviously missing its dash of Luxardo St. Antonio. It's pure gin.
Afternoon tea is a disaster. The server makes a big to-do about how we shouldn't actually be getting tea at 4 p.m., even though we had a reservation. (When we leave two hours later, she is still serving tea to new customers.)
Most of the food is edible but not great. A kung pao lobster roll has no lobster. Avocado spread and smoked salmon are brown.
The pastries are dry. The bao buns are gummy. The cakes are stale.
And by the time the tiered trays and bento-style boxes arrive, we have already finished a glass of champagne and two glasses of tea.
The tea service itself is a joke.
The measurements are off, and it's served in French presses, which scratch the delicate leaves and scorch the flavour. When we ask for hot water, the server pours it directly into the bitter pots.
Could we just have a Thermos on the side, so we can adjust to our liking? No, we cannot. The silver canisters "don't look very nice on the table."
Uh, and the plastic-handled Bodums are somehow more elegant?
By the end of the afternoon, I want to run out screaming. Maybe Mr. Hughes was on to something: Interaction with service staff, at least at the Westin Bayshore, is painful.
Vancouver's Westin Bayshore hotel is a beautiful property with stunning views of Coal Harbour, but afternoon tea at its new H Tasting Lounge is a disaster.
BEN NELMS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL