The Joseph Richard Group is dom­i­nat­ing the sub­urbs. We go to Lan­g­ley’s S+L to find out why.

S+L Kitchen and the subur­ban jug­ger­naut that is the Joseph Richard Group.

Vancouver Magazine - - CONTENT - BY Neal McLen­nan PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY Da­rina Kop­cok

I went to a friend’s house for a char­ity din­ner cooked by a win­ner of MasterChef Canada. I’d never seen the show—in which home chefs com­pete—and had never heard of David Jorge, but that night he sent out a block­buster of a meal, with dish af­ter dish of reve­la­tory cui­sine. Shar­ing a glass of wine with him af­ter­ward, I asked about a par­tic­u­lar show­stop­per—a sim­ple, per­fectly roasted whole ten­der­loin that had the crowd ditching deco­rum to load up on sec­onds, then thirds. “I get the meat at Costco,” he said with­out bravado, adding that for qual­ity and price, it was tough to beat. This is my kind of chef, I thought at the time—some­one down to earth de­spite hav­ing been gifted wings from the culi­nary gods.

I men­tion this anec­dote be­cause not long af­ter that night, I saw a press re­lease an­nounc­ing that Jorge had parked his for­mer pro­fes­sion as a suc­cess­ful con­crete con­trac­tor to take the role of cor­po­rate chef of the Joseph Richard Group and to open its new restau­rant con­cept, S+L, in Lan­g­ley. My rst thought was, “Good for him.” My sec­ond: “What the hell is the Joseph Richard Group?”

From all ac­counts, JRG (as they’re known) is the bomb from Co­quit­lam to Abby, South Sur­rey to Chilli­wack. The chain, founded by for­mer bar­tenders and Sur­rey na­tives An­dré “Joseph” Bourque and Ryan “Richard” Moreno, op­er­ates 21 bars and restau­rants—that’s more than ei­ther Joey or Earls have in B.C.—but they don’t have a sin­gle one in Van­cou­ver.

Cu­ri­ous, I jumped in my car and drove for ages, tak­ing the 200 Street exit, where S+L quickly ap­pears on the side of the road. You ac­tu­ally en­ter from the back, which is odd but con­ve­nient if you’re driv­ing. And ev­ery­one is driv­ing.

In­side, the decor hits the usual chain sus­pects—Edi­son light bulbs, lots of iron and sub­way tile, but my eyes are drawn to the clear dis­play case be­hind the host­ess sta­tion stocked with hun­dreds of steak knives, which, on closer in­spec­tion, are etched with peo­ple’s names. I’ve stum­bled upon “Knife Club,” a pro­gram where ded­i­cated cus­tomers can keep their own steak knives to use when they come in. Odd but thought­ful, and pre­sum­ably oth­ers agree, as the place is hop­ping.

I sit at a high-top near the bar, and the friendly bar­tender bolts out to greet me to see if I want some­thing to drink while I pe­ruse the menu. “Just wa­ter,” I say, an or­der that in Van­cou­ver is usu­ally fol­lowed by the still-or-sparkling up­sell, but here it’s an­swered with a chirpy, “Can I put a slice of lemon in that for you?”

The menu will be fa­mil­iar to habitués of chains: there’s a sec­tion for “Hand­helds,” a.k.a. sand­wiches, a raft of the typ­i­cal ap­pe­tiz­ers—cala­mari, tru e fries—but a cu­ri­ously small steak sec­tion (just ve op­tions, and not a rib-eye among them) for a place with a knife club.

On the rst visit, I go with the Mas­ter Chicken ($23)—though I was oblivious to the fact that this was the dish that won Jorge his MasterChef ti­tle, it does live up to its hype. Three pieces of nicely fried chicken with a slightly sweet sea­son­ing paired with sim­ple mashed pota­toes and a ba­con-creamed corn that’s a won­der—not runny but rm and rich, it’s the best creamed corn I’ve ever had. It’s the ex­act sort of de­li­cious, but not pon­cey, dish I’d ex­pect from the guy who cooked the

ten­der­loin of my dreams.

Less suc­cess­ful are the lamb pop­si­cles. I ap­pre­ci­ate Lan­g­ley is a hike from Vij’s (48.2 kilo­me­tres to be ex­act), but it takes some co­jones to poach the name of what may be the city’s most iconic dish. Worse, the server doesn’t ask how I’d like them cooked, so they ar­rive 50 shades of grey. They do sit on a quite good bed of tangy hum­mus and, at only $17, you’d be hard pressed to find chops for a bet­ter price. To match, the “Wine Book” is a wel­come respite from the puni­tive pric­ing preva­lent in Van­cou­ver: sure, it’s heavy on shi­raz and zin, but a care­ful eye re­veals jew­els like the ex­quis­ite St. Ur­bans-Hof Old Vines Ries­ling, which is $26.50 in the store and sold here for a start-the-car price of $44.

Such is the tale of S+L. If you roll in look­ing sim­ply for a good time and or­der up your knife from stor­age, you’ll be served reli­able food in a wel­com­ing at­mos­phere far from the hip­ster at­ti­tudes so common in Van­cou­ver. Drive for 45 min­utes with a note­book and a mag­ni­fy­ing glass, and you’ll find a few things to gripe about, like (please indulge me here) whisky, when it refers to Scotch (as op­posed to bour­bon), doesn’t have an e —some­thing you should have checked be­fore you painted it on the wall above your Scotch se­lec­tion. But there are a cou­ple of stand­out dishes that show why the JRG team (which, in ad­di­tion to Jorge, in­cludes ex-Cac­tus TopChef win­ner Matt Stowe) is killing it in the Val­ley (the Wagyu flat­iron and oh, that corn), although my in­cli­na­tion is that the care­fully crafted sense of be­long­ing might be equally as im­por­tant to the chain’s suc­cess as the food.

Ei­ther way, the proof is in the par­fait (which is a rea­son­able $7): JRG hired 200 peo­ple last year and ex­pects to hire 200 more this year. You don’t get num­bers like these with­out crank­ing out sat­is­fied cus­tomers.

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