Londoners Livia Boumeester and Louisa Stevenson-Hamilton were so preoccupied with Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood during a visit two years ago that they decided to stay for a while and leave their company jobs behind.
“It was super relaxed, really young. Everyone just hung out a little bit,” Boumeester said from the residential neighborhood on the beach west of downtown.
The best friends, both 27, worked for a year in hospitality at the Vancouver Lawn Tennis and Badminton Club and spent their free time exploring British Columbia and Canada.
“The idea of being able to ski and go to the beach and get all that while living in a city was just such a new idea from London,” Stevenson-Hamilton said.
They liked it so much that when the couple returned to London in the late summer of 2020, they made a life-changing decision to stop their financial careers and invest all their savings in building their own piece of Kitsilano in a corner of south-west London. . In early October, they opened a restaurant named after one of Vancouver’s most trendy streets: West 4th.
“Every single person said, ‘Do not do that,'” Boumeester said. “But it felt right.”
A taste of home
The West 4ths menu is inspired by Canadian ingredients and the food that Boumeester and Stevenson-Hamilton enjoyed while traveling on the West Coast and in other parts of Canada.
For brunch, there is the Granville Market wrap with tofu and vegan sausage, named after a popular market in Vancouver, or Maple Ridge, egg benedict with Canadian bacon named after a Vancouver suburb.
Dinner includes game and cranberry tartare and salted salmon.
A Canadian Caesar, made with Clamato juice, is part of the drinks menu. The vodka-based cocktail may be a staple in restaurants across Canada, but it’s a rarity almost everywhere else.
And no Canadian-themed menu would be complete without poutine, Boumeester said. Predictably, the Quebec favorite has been a top seller.
While the beach may be missing in the London version of West 4th, a clock on the wall set for Vancouver time and bottles of Burrowing Owl wine from BC help set the mood. They even held a wine tasting in the Okanagan region recently.
Boumeester and Stevenson-Hamilton figured all of this would be enough to attract their target audience: the young brunch crowd from nearby upscale London neighborhoods like Chelsea, Fulham and Parsons Green.
But to their surprise, some of their most dedicated customers have so far turned out to be ex-pat Canadians. Stevenson-Hamilton said they get one or two tables a day with Canadians, including some from outside London.
“We did it as a local Fulham restaurant inspired by something we had enjoyed, but we had not anticipated this huge Canadian fan base, which is a lovely thing to have,” she said.
Architect Tanis Paul, 47, a Winnipeg resident who has lived in the British capital for six years, is one of the returning clients. She said a piece of Canada in the city is exactly what London has been missing.
“There’s just something about it that makes me feel at home,” Paul said.
West 4th has managed to capture some of the essence of Vancouver’s outdoor lifestyle, Paul said.
The front of the restaurant has a large solarium. Not entirely outdoors, but perhaps more appropriate given London’s infamous humid climate.
An airy blue, green and white color scheme, books about the Rocky Mountains and some Canadian music in the background contribute to a west coast vibe.
“It’s cozy, people are friendly, and it just adds to the atmosphere,” Paul said. “It’s an overall feeling. It’s just fresh and nice.”
Melissa Turner, 42, who is originally from Orangeville, Ont., And owns a London-based online education company, said that after 15 years away from home, it’s nice to find a place that feels and sounds familiar.
“It’s funny you can hear the Canadian accents,” she said of the customers, which could be heard in the background during an interview with CBC.
Boumeester said that for some Canadian tourists who stop in, it is curiosity that attracts them.
“It’s the fascination of, ‘Who liked my country so much that they would take it back?’
Canadian cuisine is a rarity in London
The competition in the Canadian-themed restaurants category in London is pretty thin.
You can find pubs, cafes and eateries from all over the world in the British capital, but Canadian cuisine is a rarity.
Headquartered in Toronto, Tim Horton’s says it has 40 locations in the UK and counts but no shops close to central London. The Maple Leaf pub in Covent Garden has been around for decades and caters specifically to an audience of sports bars.
The fact that West 4th offers a different Canadian experience is what appealed to Tiffany Rokosz-Wong, 36, a chef from Vancouver who lives in London, on her first visit.
“It’s not a sports bar with Canadian flags everywhere,” Rokosz-Wong said. “It’s not gimmicky.”
She said she is proud to see this more elegant version of Canada being presented, complete with some of her favorite Canadian wines.
“It’s emotional for me.”
About 90,000 Canadians live in the UK, making it the largest Canadian population outside of North America, according to data company Statista.
With all of these Canadian expats, the owners of West 4th might have found an untapped market, said Ben Floyd, director of restaurant consulting firm Lumiere.
Floyd has helped establish successful restaurants across London and said that while the West 4th concept seems like a good one, owners should expect some challenges.
Half of London’s restaurants fail in the first year, he said, and the pandemic has made it even more challenging to stay open. Nearly 10 percent of restaurants nationwide closed their doors between spring 2020 and spring 2021, according to data from Market Recovery Monitor.
The owners of West 4th are guarded with their sales figures to date, but they said the restaurant is generally booked Friday through Sunday.
The Canadian charm
Floyd said a West 4th-sized London restaurant in a similar neighborhood would likely have to generate at least £ 18,000 (about $ 31,000 Cdn) a week on sale just to balance.
West 4th has about 15 tables plus seating in a large bar in the middle of the room, which was what originally caught Floyd’s attention.
He said the bar definitely contributes to a spacious feel, but can be a bit of a risk.
“In central London, you pack as many tables as you can,” he said.
As for the menu, Floyd finds the Canadian theme “interesting” and the selection is known enough to the British that it is not “polarizing”.
But it’s the story of the owners and their travels and their presence at the restaurant that is the real attraction, Floyd said.
“I do not necessarily know what Canadian food is, but I know Canadians are warm and friendly and welcoming people, and they can play out of that.”