It’s a good time to be a vegetarian in Vancouver.
I remember walking into a burger joint a few years back, and seeing literally nothing on the menu for me to eat. The only attempt was a “vegetarian sandwich,” which was basically a burger, without the patty. Um, no. Lame!
There are very few places you can go these days that don’t, in some way, cater to vegetarians or vegans in a special way. Most places have specific meat-free options, and the past few years here in Vancouver have witnessed the growth of vegetarian restaurants 2.0: upscale, creative, and meat-free. Veg-heads can now happily take in gourmet fare at Heirloom, The Acorn and The Parker, and not feel hard-done-by.
Exile Bistro is one of the restos that joins the list of elegant, meat-free cuisine.
This tiny space that seats just 14, is, simply put, as cute as a button. It’s so small, it may force you to get communal with your neighbours, but hey–it’s Vancouver–let’s make friends. It’s located conveniently just off Davie St on Bute–both in the heart of the west end, and tucked away in a quiet corner.
Exile is not 100% meat-free, which makes it a good choice to come to if you are, say, a vegetarian who’s dating a carnivore, or some combination therof. Meat options at Exile are limited to wild game, like boar bacon or deer sausage.
They do some pretty creative drinks here. While you can order a regular mimosa with orange juice, they also offer ones made with cold-pressed vegetable juices from The Juice Truck. The end result is less sweet, and slightly acidic, like drinking kombacha mixed with bubbles. It could actually be the ultimate hangover cure.
Caesars here are green–owing to the algae that’s added to them. Kinda makes you feel a little holier-than-thou. Like you’re drinking booze, but booze that’s actually good for you.
The menu, not shockingly, contains many vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. The most interesting and creative thing is the Farinata; chickpeas are ground and then left to ferment for about a day, then made into an eggless “omelette.” I’ve only seen tofu as egg substitute, so it might be worth going back to try someday.
As far as “traditional” brunch goes, The Exile Breakfast includes 2 eggs (free run, of course), done how you like them, rye toast, and a potato hash. Carnivores can add on a side of boar bacon.
I went for the vegan french toast. Three slices of pan-fried bread, crusted with crunchy walnuts and flax, and topped with applesauce, maple syrup, and accompanied with a shmear of coconut whip. It was pretty satisfying, and I didn’t, in any way, miss the eggs.
My brunch companions (one of whom is a carnivore, and one is a gluten-free vegetarian), opted for the Deer Sausage Hash and the Eggs Benedict, respectively.
The Deer Sausage was pronounced “quite delicious,” but the eggs benny was meh. The gluten-free bread was dry and not super tasty (which is a challenge, in general, in my experience, with gluten-free bread), and the yogurt hollandaise wasn’t amazing, despite its incredibly rich colour.
One thing that I can’t not remark on is the beauty of the plating here. The “culinary technicians” (there are no “chefs” here–I can only assume it’s some kind of hippie reaction against labels and hierarchy) do an amazing job of allowing us to “eat with our eyes” before we eat with our forks.
The service was fairly good–in such a tiny space you would expect it to be exceptional–but my coffee cup was never refilled the entire time we were there. But maybe I misunderstood? Coffee is not bottomless here? I’m just used to sit-down restaurants providing that service automatically.
So, all-in-all, a mixed experience at Exile. Still, the next time a vegan wants to get together for brunch, I might suggest this place over, say, Bandidas (my go-to), simply because of the more elegant decor and plating. It certainly is worth a second look, despite not making the greatest first impression.
1220 Bute St
Brunch hours: Saturday and Sunday, 10 am to 3 pm