BEST NEW RESTAURANT
Ugly Duckling Dining & Provisions
Runners Up: Fox & Monocle, The Block Kitchen & Bar
By CINDA CHAVICH
It’s never easy to open a new restaurant, but when Chef Corbin Mathany launched Ugly Duckling this year, he learned it takes much more than great kitchen skills.
Mathany describes himself as “chef, owner, wine director, restaurant manager, and occasional dishwasher” at Ugly Duckling, and he could add construction labourer to the list.
“Yes, that’s 200+ hours of work with a drill, a wire brush and a respirator,” says Mathany, surveying the exposed brick walls that frame the narrow space, with its modern, minimalist décor. But reviving this late-1800s building in the heart of Chinatown hits the mark for his ambitious, locally inspired menu.
“We’re calling it an edible celebration of Vancouver Island, and a love-letter to our Chinatown home,” he says. “We have a remarkable team of very talented individuals bringing the experience to life, but (for now, at least) I’m filling all the managerial positions as a one-man-show.”
And what a lovely show it is. At Ugly Duckling, Mathany focuses on nose-to-tail cooking with local ingredients and Asian inspiration. His three- and six-course tasting menus take diners on a seasonal journey that’s artfully curated and expertly executed, from fluffy little loaves of Chinese Milk Bread with charred scallion butter and pots of savoury steamed custards, to cured albacore tuna with compressed cucumber, halibut napped in miso beurre blanc, house-made squid ink noodle ‘chow mein’ with Manila clams, and tender Parry Bay Farms lamb loin with lamb shoulder soybean cassoulet. Chefs arriving tableside to describe their plates, plus thoughtful touches like bamboo steamers of warm hand towels and a sweet ending of house made fortune cookies, elevate the fine dining experience.