Vancouver | 1809 W. 1st Ave. | 778-379-4052 | annalena.ca
Michael Robbins named his restaurant for his two grandmothers, Anna and Lena. If either of them ever told him not to play with his food, it doesn’t show. AnnaLena’s long black and white Kitsilano room is decorated with the chef’s own painted Bearbrick teddy figurines and sentimental Lego constructions, like a red heart he built his wife for Valentine’s Day. How refreshing to find a chef exhibiting a personal passion for something other than bare Edison filament bulbs.
Robbins’ real toys are in the kitchen. The octopus and potato dish features tentacles cooked sous-vide and then grilled, while the tiny suckers are detached, pickled and accentuated with little pastry-bag dots of lobster mayonnaise. “We’ve got four circulator baths working back there,” says the bright-eyed waitress in the red sneakers. “For now.”
The dishes are almost suspiciously pretty, but digging in proves that Robbins’ cooking is much more than Instagram eye candy. The Wagyu short ribs’ accompaniment of lightly sautéed mushrooms and green peas gives a nice pop against the beef’s density. Pork belly over savoury “oat porridge” is actually delightful − something to do with the sweetness of those roasted-and-reconstituted beets and the sharpness of fresh nasturtium leaves.
Lorde and Justice headline a young indie-pop soundtrack, but many diners in cashmere and greying crewcuts are from Robbins’ parents’ generation. Lingering at the bar post-dessert, I order a Long Goodbye, the cocktail that barman Kevin Brownlee builds around Drambuie and Calvados, “as if Scotland invaded France.” On the bar, a Lego diorama depicts mini-stormtroopers gathered around a campfire. Everyone needs some work-life balance.