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.
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.