Fusion. It's pretty common to read about restaurants and cafes that describe themselves as "east meets west" only to find out it is either a predominantly Asian establishment with spaghetti and minute steak or a Western restaurant with an Asian "inspired" menu (think stereotypical tempura, tuna, green onions and ginger). In many respects, there's nothing entirely wrong with either case, but the promotion is overdone and upon leaving you often can't help but feel disappointed. Enter Chill, another seemingly futile attempt at fusion.
Located on Kingsway in Burnaby where O'Brien's Pub & Grill and the short-lived, forgotten Korean family restaurant used to exist, Chill attempts to place itself where many have claimed, but often let down. It's easy to think it would end up being an "east meets west," bad service, cash-only bubble tea and steak place for cheap.
To start, Chill's food and drink selection are pretty standard Asian fare, combining a variety of favourite tapas and main entrees. Seemingly uninspired, it sets itself apart firstly by having a concise menu that is reminiscent of a fine dining experience. Each dish is well-described and distinct. The permutations are limited, which is a refreshingly sharp contrast to your typical bubble tea cafes. What you won't find are fine dining prices - it is competitively priced at cafe-style levels. Complementing the succinct food menu is a drink menu that shares similar qualities. Again, you won't find 764 varieties of tea drinks but you will find many classics, a good selection of uncommons and some interesting picks. Happily impressed, I chose a Miso Chicken meal ($6+2) with a mango green tea w/ pearls ($4.25+0.50).
The meal comes standard with a small assortment of side dishes (in this case, steamed broccoli, seasoned celery and peanuts) and a generous bowl of rice topped with black sesame seeds. The portions were well-sized and appropriately "cafe-style." The chicken was stir-fried in a house miso sauce with garlic, ginger and basil. It was undeniably tasty in its sweet and savouriness and the kitchen spared no expense with the ingredients. Unfortunately, this worked against them as I spent a fair amount of energy and effort discerning and picking out chicken from the plentiful quantities of garlic cloves, ginger slices and basil leaves in the sauce.
The mango green tea was relatively pricey but came as a "large" drink. The pearls were a bit tough to chew and probably could have been boiled a bit longer. The drink's taste was standard and less sweet than usual. That said, it is always enjoyable to taste *tea* in your bubble tea drink - there was obviously less sugar/syrup used and that, to me, is fantastic.
Far and away the most outlandish and impressive aspect is the ambiance. From the onset of entering (where you will find a menu outside for your perusal), you can observe well-coordinated decor and furniture. The place is sufficiently well-lit yet retains a lounge-type mood. The overall design is interesting yet neutral should your focus remain on your party. The layout and structure is distinctively modern and Western yet the materials and details are notably Asian. Observe and you will find many interesting details - red accent lighting to set a warm, relaxing tone that also complement the waitress attire; strange mash-up music mixes of Asian and Western pop songs (a few work, many are regrettably just interesting experiments); an over-sized, western-style bar loaded with mugs for bubble tea; a "CHILL" lettering pattern cut into a metal panel separating the waiting from the dining area; washrooms that are (for now) disturbingly clean and well-kept. It's all outrageous, sophisticated and simply cool. You will ask yourself many times whether Chill is "just" a bubble tea cafe or "another" Earl's/Cactus Club/Milestones-type restaurant. You will discover that Chill is much of both yet stands unique in its ambition, value and execution. This is fusion done right.
If there's one knock on Chill, it is the service. Three waitresses serve the dining area and while they are friendly and smiling, they appeared less attentive and alert than I had hoped. It's pretty standard at a bubble tea cafe, but with all the Western, fusion-esque ambiance this could be escalated to match.
Chill is ambitious. It is definitely rooted in homely Asian cafe-style value and cuisine yet brings in the elegance of Western-style ambiance and delivery at cheap prices. It has bubble tea and starting next week, it will have beer and wine. There is an events calendar and hopefully when it warms up, the patio will open. There is even some live music on specific evenings. It can be hard to fathom for a Western/Chinese/HK/Taiwanese-"fusion,"-bubble tea/tapas-cafe/restaurant/lounge, but Chill is also a genuine dining experience. It's in the right location, in the right city and has the right combination of food, drink, value and ambiance. With improvements to the service and its promotional network, this could turn into something big that will appeal to a broad spectrum of customers. Here's hoping this experiment succeeds.