One can easily pass by The Sardine Can and not even notice it is there. Aptly named due to the dining rooms relatively small size (in total there are only three tables and a bar for seating), this Gastown restaurant is primarily known for serving a strictly Spanish tapas menu, a genre which Vancouver does not have too many options to choose from.
To be honest, I’ve never really been inclined to visit The Sardine Can. However, when a co-worker was looking for a place to grab some after work snacks and drinks, I figured that there would be no better company and reason to give the restaurant a try.
Like grabbing a bite to eat at any tapas spot in Spain, it is simple and straightforward. There are no reservations. If there is a free table or space at the bar, then take a seat and begin to rattle off orders to your heart’s content.
There is a wide yet manageable size of tapas to choose from the menu – with the goal of trying to stay as traditional as possible to what may be sampled in Spain. And after having a couple of the tapas, it was definitely clear that there were dishes that really shone through and were able to clearly showcase what makes tapas, in my mind, really enjoyable – simple but with lots of texture, pronounced flavours and fresh ingredients.
Take for example the octopus stew which had loads of texture from each ingredient found in the dish. The octopus was soft yet chewy, the leafy chard provided just enough crunch and the white beans, which was just on the cusp of going from firm to mushy, gave a subtle smoothness to round out each spoonful I had.
There was also a shallow bowl filled with champiñones (mushrooms), cooked to fork tender, laying in a pool of cream sauce. Though still a textural treat, the highlight was definitely the truly rich and flavourful cream sauce which paired well with the meatiness of the mushrooms like a vegetarian steak with gravy.
Or the chorizo con Jerez (chorizo) that was served (I presume) in the same pan it was cooked in. This tapas was as simple as it gets with the chorizo and sherry vinegar the only ingredients being used, but again, flavour was not lacking. The natural oils from the sausage emulsified with the sherry to form a deep red flavourful “vinaigrette”, which when used as a dip for the accompanying bread, was heavenly. And on its own, the chorizo was just spicy enough to provide a small kick of heat with each small slice.
But despite the success of the aforementioned dishes, there were a number of plates that failed to deliver as well. The gambas al ajillo (spicy garlic prawns) for one, was oddly bland and lacked any sensation of spiciness. The prawns specifically were devoid of any flavour that it unfortunately reminded me of the frozen ones that can be bought in any supermarket in the lower mainland.
And the albondigas (meatballs) served with a tomato sauce joined the prawns on the same sinking ship, with the meatballs and the tomato sauce not making any lasting flavour impact at all.
This was the first time I’ve ever seen Txakoli offered on a menu in Vancouver, and based on its fizzy, dry and light characteristics, I don’t know why it is offered in even more Vancouver restaurants as I can see it pairing naturally well with the seafood found in this part of the world.
Traditionally poured at a height to release the natural carbonation produced during bottling the wine, our server – though definitely nervous – did an admirable job in keeping this tradition alive.
Having visited Spain yearly since 2010 and being able to try a lot of tapas in cities such as Madrid, Barcelona and San Sebastian, there truly is no way to replicate what is being offered across the Atlantic by those Iberian Peninsula cities.
The Sardine Can tries and delivers in some aspects, but having the expectation that any restaurant in Vancouver will be able to replicate what the Spanish have done for hundreds of years is unfair and unrealistic. Instead, when visiting The Sardine Can, know that you will be getting a solid and broad selection of Spanish food and beverages not offered in many other places in Vancouver, and when enjoyed with friends, makes it even much better.
To view pictures of the meal in its entirety, click through the photo set below. If you are using a mobile device, please click here for compatibility.
Thanks for reading,
S and C