For 30 years, the patio/pub attached to Crystal Lodge and Suites in Whistler Village was known as the Citta' Bistro — a landmark watering hole in a prime location on the Village Stroll.
For the last month, that location has been home to Beacon Pub and Eatery, where executive chef Neil O'Brien is hoping to build a reputation of his own with his outback-inspired menu.
"I'm Australian originally, so I try to put a bit of an Australian twist on the menu," O'Brien said.
"Everything on the menu is a personal favourite of mine."
And whereas Citta' was primarily known as a place to meet up and down a pint or two, O'Brien's focus is good food, made right.
"It shouldn't be called Beacon Pub and Eatery. It should be called Beacon Eatery and Pub," he joked.
"You're not ever going to get anything here that's your average food."
Whether it's his Pig Roll — a sausage roll done with double smoked bacon, fresh apple and fennel seed — or his signature steak sandwich — three layers of pounded-down striploin accentuated by arugula, beets and carmalized onions (among other things). Nothing is done without a touch of O'Brien's personal care and attention.
Even his fish and chips have been turning heads.
"I get told at least once a day by someone who is from England, 'This is the best fish and chips I've ever had in my life,'" O'Brien said.
"It's nice. I mean, it's fish and chips, but we know we're doing it right."
But while it may have the English folk dreaming of home, almost everything that comes out of O'Brien's kitchen is made in-house.
"The only thing we don't make in-house is our fries and our bread," O'Brien said.
"So all of our sauces, all of our burgers... everything is done in-house."
O'Brien also sticks to locally-sourced goods, like sustainably-caught B.C. fish and certified Canadian beef, but he makes no claims to being a beacon of a sustainable beltline.
"It's good food, not health food," he said with a smile.
"I'm not here saving people's lives. They're here having a beer."
O'Brien has been working in Whistler restaurants since he arrived here in 2002.
Since then, he's spent time with the Bearfoot Bistro, Quattro, the Hilton and the Four Seasons, among others.
"I've been playing the sous chef game for the last eight, nine years since I've been here in Whistler," he said.
Now, he and his 20-plus years of experience as a qualified chef are playing the executive chef game, with sous chef Kyle Maloney providing support.
"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have made it through this month," O'Brien said of Maloney.
Day in and day out, the pair have been putting in up to 18 hours a day to keep the plates moving and the stomachs full.
"It's been really busy... one of the hardest things I've done," he said.
But when he sees patrons of the Beacon enjoying the products of his hard work, it's likely that he's not thinking too much about the hours.
"You can sit out here and watch peoples' reactions when their food comes out and it's like, whoa, they weren't expecting that," he said.
"But it's still simple food that's easily recognizable, and the flavours aren't too complex... I'm very happy to see that people are really loving my flavours. That's any chef's dream."
Neil O'Brien's Peperonata Sauce
1 large red onion
2 sweet peppers
1 dry pint of grape tomatoes
1 x 5.5 fl oz can of tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon parsley
1 small head of garlic
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoon olive oil
First, large dice sweet peppers and onion and set aside. Coarse chop your parsley and set aside. Take peeled garlic and place it in a small pot covered in cold water. Slowly bring to a boil then strain, cover in cold water and repeat this two more times. Set aside. In a medium, heavy-based pot, heat oil to medium heat, add onion, blanched garlic and peppers, sauté for three or so minutes then add tomato paste. Keep stirring until paste has cooked out and comes to a boil. Add vinegar and grape tomatoes, reduce heat and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Finish with parsley and salt.
You can easily make this sauce your own by using different coloured peppers or even the addition of hot ones. This is a great sandwich spread or on warm vegetables as a side dish.
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