Grapes Wine Bar a Hidden Gem

    Afton Aikens February 27, 2015

    There’s something rather enchanting about walking up the drive to The Fairmont Banff Springs, even for a Bow Valley local who’s been inside the hotel numerous times.

    Guests and staff flow in and out of the castle’s doors with a rhythm and excitement that reminds you Banff is a true world travel destination. When I ventured upstairs to meet a friend at Grapes Wine Bar, we were only seated for five minutes when a bride in a gleaming white gown rushed down the hall, flowers in hand.

    Grapes is a 1920s reading room turned wine and charcuterie bar. The intimate space has a dark wood interior and large window with a Mount Rundle view. I was lucky enough to be there for sunset, which all the guests in the restaurant paused to admire, stealing the show from the food for a few minutes.

    This was my first visit to Grapes, and the meal was prepared by Chef Tyler Thompson, who was the Springs’ ‘Chef of the Month’ in February. Thompson selects locally sourced meats and cheeses for the wine bar’s menu, hand pickles preserves and prepares pâtés and terrines, and arranges the perfect combination of tastes.

    The first plate we tried was a foie gras torchon (for those who may not know—I didn’t—“torchon” refers to the cylindrical shape of the foie gras), paired with candied walnuts, blueberry port chutney, preserved lemon rind, balsamic reduction and maldon salt to add some crunch. The creamy texture of the foie gras and the sweet flavour of the chutney complemented each other nicely.

    The main event was the most impressive charcuterie board I’ve seen yet. There were several cheeses—Riopelle brie (left) with a pickled strawberry, currants and lavender salt; Pacific Rock washed rind cheese paired with three spiced peaches; Avonlea cloth bound cheddar with squash jam; and Bleu d’Elizabeth with blueberry port chutney and candied walnuts.

    I’m partial to brie, but the Bleu d’Elizabeth was a close second. I find some blue cheeses can be a bit of a shock to the palate, but this was pleasantly surprising.

    The meats included truffle Genoa salami, coppa (pork), rohess-speck (double smoked bacon from Canmore’s Valbella Gourmet Foods) and elk salami. To spice things up (flavour- and- colour-wise), Thompson added scorpion pepper mustard, ramp pesto, pickled cauliflower, parsnip, beans and asparagus, and honey glazed onions.

    When I mentioned I love duck prosciutto, he also brought out some lavender cured duck prosciutto, prepared with different salts, dehydrated lavender, orange leaves, shishito pepper, white pepper and coriander. “The salt pulls the moisture out of the meat and lets the flavor get in,” Thompson explains. “The flavour combination allows for a nice citrus floral note without overwhelming your palate.”

    This meal was truly an experience, and learning about the food made it interesting and enjoyable.

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