I used to not be a fan of chains. I’m picky about where I spend my dining dollars, and there are so many neat independent places to try that have have original menus and need the business. I still prefer non-chain restaurants, but I’ve relaxed a little about occasionally visiting a restaurant like Cactus Club. They’re a safe bet if you’re meeting with a group of people with varying food preferences – there’s something for everyone. Or in my case, if you’re after a view, and Cactus Club just happens to have scored one of the best locations in town, right on the beach at English Bay.
The Cactus Club at English Bay just opened at the beginning of March 2012. And if you’re going to visit a chain restaurant, it’d be hard to do better than Cactus Club. It’s risen head and shoulders above its competition, with a revamped style and menu, and with the likes of Chef Rob Feenie in charge (Canada’s first Iron Chef America champion). The only nagging issue that I still have is the cost – prices at chains used to be more reasonable than the average restaurant. Sadly, this is no longer the case. But I digress. Back to the killer location.
This is more of a location review than a restaurant review. The food and drinks at Cactus Club are pretty good across all locations. They’ve got something to cater to most tastes. This location was no exception, although this time around, my friend and I only went for drinks/apps.
I had the hot chicken wings and a side of celery sticks with blue cheese dip. They were gluten-free (note: the Thai ones contain gluten). My friend had the spicy chicken dish (not gluten-free – batter plus wontons crisps). We both enjoyed our apps. I found out later that there is a gluten free menu online. However, the chicken wings are not on there – I’ll have to ask about that next time I’m there. It might be that there was potential cross-contamination, as when the server asked me if I’m a Celiac I said that it was simply a dietary preference.
The service was good. Our server was friendly and nice. She was also very helpful in navigating the menu to find gluten-free options – when she wasn’t sure, she inquired with the kitchen. Although we only had to wait 15 minutes for a table, they were very busy, which is probably why the service was a little slow.
The ambiance was very happening – the restaurant is rather small and the place was packed. There were a lot more business people there than I had expected. I was hoping for a laid back West End vibe, but looking at the clientele, this Cactus Club could’ve easily been located in the downtown core. Chef Rob Feenie was there, saying hello to a few tables of people. Can’t blame him for choosing to work from this location!
The restaurant itself is beautifully designed. They’re targeting a LEED Gold Certification (one of the first restaurants in Canada to do so). Some of their environmentally-friendly features include: a living, energy-efficient green roof; an organic herb garden; constructed of 75% salvaged or recycled materials; and low VOC building materials.
This Cactus Club looks very sleek and modern. The two storey building is long and narrow, with an intimate feel. Sitting downstairs, I felt as if I was in the cabin of a boat, especially with their extensive use of wood. It’s also basically a glass box, making it bright, and of course showcasing the absolutely gorgeous panoramic views from both floors. Did I mention that this restaurant is right on the beach? All the restaurants on the street behind it must be pretty choked, as location-wise this is now the spot in the West End. I cannot wait to come back in the summer to enjoy their patio – as long as I don’t have to wait 3 hours for a table!