As a regular patron to Vancouver West’s Linh Cafe, it’s my brunch go-to for their unpretentious, casual, family-style atmosphere and delicious, traditional French-Vietnamese cuisine. The consistency of the food quality and attention paid to detail is what sets this small, family-run business apart from the rest.
The restaurant looks more like a french-inspired cafe upon entering.The wall running the length of the restaurant is accented with playful, painted papier mâché and black and white pictures. A coffee bar sits in the middle of the restaurant by the kitchen entrance, serving fresh espresso-based beverages by the order. Beside the coffee bar, a chalkboard menu is displayed showing special, off-menu dishes including rack on lamb, whole lobster and suckling pig.
Tai Nguyen, the owner and Chef of the restaurant came out to greet us. “I hope you are hungry!” he said as he rushed back into the kitchen to prepare some of his signature dishes for us to try.
Tai was born in a small town in North Vietnam, he started cooking at an early age when the obligation of preparing meals for his family fell into his hands. He moved to Canada in 2001, and became increasingly infatuated with French cooking over the span of his career working and learning from well-established French restaurant in Vancouver.
Tai welcomed us into his kitchen to take a few pictures of them in action. We watched as Tai sped from place to place purposefully, ladling hot soup into bowls, putting skillets into the oven and back, and stirring an oversized stock pot steaming on the stove.
Tai’s dream of establishing his own family-style restaurant came true in 2014, and he combined the two cuisines into one unique restaurant serving both authentic, country-style French cooking and Vietnamese cuisine he grew up with. The restaurant became a reflection of who he is, displaying his passion for his roots, his love for French cooking, and his family-oriented lifestyle to his customers.
Our first dish was the Red Argentina spot prawn with garlic and butter. The shrimps were cooked perfectly, tender and meaty. But the star was perhaps the sauce to the dish - a heavenly rich concoction of butter, garlic and lemon. We were provided house-made French baguettes to soak the sauce with - a filling, hearty dish we will definitely order again.
The baked escargot came shortly after, served in a hot, Staub cast iron skillet. A dish typically served as an appetizer in French cuisine, we enjoyed every bite of this variation with a thick piece of french baguette as a base, soaking in the buttery medley of the escargot, tomatoes and garlic.
It was a bit of a relief when we saw a green salad roll as our next dish. The lightness of this dish is a breath of fresh air and a good break in between the delicious French dishes that tend to be on the heavier side. The salad rolls are packed with house-made preserved pork, vermicelli, lettuce, and fresh herbs. A healthy, light snack for those craving something simple.
The Toulouse Breakfast is perhaps the most popular dish for brunch goers. It is evident from a quick scan at the other tables, most of which have a skillet of this hearty dish with poached eggs, white beans, house-made sausage, bacon, and chorizo submerged in a buttery cream sauce. “Toulouse is a dish inspired by the French city of Toulouse,” said the cheerful store manager Katalina as she brought the dish over to us. Even though we were full at this point, we enjoyed the dish thoroughly because of their tasty home made sausage.
The Phở Bo was a getaway to Hanoi. It was an interesting transition from traditional French cooking to the traditionally served Vietnamese Phở, but the hot, beautifully seasoned beef stock and the great texture of the rice noodle made the transition easy. You have the choice to add soft-poached eggs to the soup, making it a truly Hanoi breakfast. An added bonus is the Phở Bo - the signature house-made “hot sauce” of fresh red chilli marinated with garlic to create a concoction of sweet, spicy and sour. The sauce brings the soup to life, giving it a nice “kick” and acidity.
Last but not least, we were offered a delightful platter of their most popular desserts to try. “The desserts are all baked in-house by one of our talented pastry chefs” said Tai as he points towards the kitchen. The restaurant is equipped with a commercial oven, giving them the freedom to experiment with an assortment of baked goods. We had the pleasure to try the matcha creme puff, palmier, lemon tart, chocolate tart and peanut macarons. They were all equally great, but the tarts were a definite standout. I was blown away by the lightness and balance in taste.
We thank Tai for the wonderful hospitality. Our final words with Tai left us feeling warm and welcomed, and the thoughtful service from Katalina will definitely stay with us. Located in Kitsilano between McDonald Street and West 4th, Linh restaurant is a hidden Vancouver gem worth going out of your way for. After all, where else can you find a restaurant serving both French and Vietnamese cuisine on one table?
2836 W 4th Ave, Vancouver
Photos by: SL Photography