The Sardine Can
Having recently visited Spain and experienced the nation’s celebrated tapas culture, we were surprised that it has been so difficult to replicate this seemingly simple concept in Vancouver. While there are a number of local tapas bars, the vast majority fail to capture either the lively, convivial atmosphere or the simplicity of the dishes that are at the essence of this Spanish institution. The Sardine Can, the latest venture from notable Vancouver restaurateurs Andrey Durbach and Chris Stewart, the duo behind La Buca, Pied-A-Terre, The Commissery and Cafeteria, succeeds on both fronts and is a welcome addition to the Gastown dining scene. As soon as we approached this tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it establishment on Powell Street, we knew immediately that Durbach and Stewart had done their research; the place looks, and smells, exactly like the tapas bars in Spain, but with a decidedly contemporary twist.
Seating is limited to 20 stools at three high-top tables and the bar which encourages a communal eating and drinking experience. We opted for the bar, putting us in close proximity to all the action, and like the best tapas spots in Spain, conversing with the bartender and chef is a must. A one-room establishment, the tapas at The Sardine Can are carefully prepared and assembled on a collection of tiny apparatuses directly behind the bar, in plain view of those interested in witnessing how their dishes are created.
The menu includes a thoughtful selection of traditional Spanish tapas fare with daily specials listed on a chalkboard to augment the regular offerings. With most options priced at an extremely reasonable $5 or $10, we ordered a large selection. The patatas bravas, a dish we adored in Spain, was expertly prepared; the potatoes had crispy exteriors that gave way to soft, delectable middles, and the garlic aioli was rich, but not overwhelming. The simple and flavourful trio of olives, spiced almonds and hummus was accompanied by thick slices of sourdough bread. We have no idea what concoction was used to spice the almonds but they are among the best we’ve ever had. The house specialty, their namesake smoked sardines on toast, was the highlight of our evening, and this savory, salty dish already has us yearning to return for more. Our other tapas – tomato and cheese toast and clams steamed in white wine – were equally as impressive both in terms of flavor and in the generosity of the portions.
Another signature of a proper tapas bar is the beverage selection and here, too, The Sardine Can does not disappoint. With a list that boasts an excellent assortment of red and white Spanish varietals, an interesting collection of Sherry and Cava, and a few Spanish beers for good measure, there is something to please even the most discerning patron. Drinks are served in small tumblers, as the Spanish are wont to do, and we sampled both red and white options and were impressed with the flavour and quality at a very reasonable price point. The Tempranillo and the Artero Macebeo, both from La Mancha region, were the highlights and pared extremely well with our food.
With a cozy, intimate atmosphere and excellent selection of small plates, The Sardine Can is the perfect spot for after work drinks and snacks. We can’t wait to return and sample some of the other delectable menu items; we have our eyes on the roasted peppers stuffed with salt cod that we longingly watched be delivered to another table. There are no airs or pretentions about this place, the focus is clearly on creating simple, tasty food to be enjoyed in a relaxed and inviting atmosphere. Be sure to stop by the ATM before heading to The Sardine Can. While credit and debit cards are accepted, a generous 10 percent discount is applied to bills paid with cash.