A cured meats restaurant in Gastown district with a street address named Blood Alley sounds suspicious, if not a bit scary, doesn’t it? The hunt for Salt Tasting room, a charcuterie, cheese and wine restaurant in downtown Vancouver was in fact a tad hairy. The 19th century architecture and heritage buildings that line the cobblestone streets of Gastown have a retained historic charm and old world spirit, but one step into a back alley or a dark street corner and you can experience skid row as Vancouverites saw it during the Depression. Salt Tasting Kitchen, which opened in the summer of 2006, is located in an unmarked alley between Water Street and Cordova Street. At first we circled round and around the area on bicycle, asking locals if they knew of Blood Alley, only to get a confused ‘no’. As we walked our bicycles down the alley, winding through homeless people and drug addicts, we saw the majestic grey flag with a salt shaker motif hanging over the front door. We had finally found it- but before entering the restaurant, we had to go back out the alley to find a safer place to park our rental bikes.
This haunting street, full of haunted street residents, used to be lined with butcher shops, hence the name Blood Alley for the bloody mess that would ensue after a day of animal butchering. In addition, Blood Alley was a location for public executions in the late 19th century. A most interesting place to serve sliced salami, trimmed beef tongue and shaved prosciutto; yet the discretely located Salt Tasting Room successfully creates a safe haven for foodies to congregate.
Salt Tasting Room specializes in artisanal cheeses, small-batch cured meats and a vast selection of wines, sherries, ports, beers and spirits which go through a constant rotation. They offer wines from Europe, Australia, Argentina and the US, but most of their line up celebrates local harvests from British Columbia, like Okanagan Falls and Similkameen Valley. Any of their liquids can be enjoyed by the glass or bottle, and one can also sample a wider variety through their 2 ounce tasters and tasting flights.
The entire menu consists of cheeses, charcuterie and condiments that are written on the large chalkboard wall in the rear of the restaurant. The decor is simple, just a few tables and chairs aside from the large communal wooden table by the entrance in a brick exposed wall space, as the emphasis is on food and wine. Diners assemble a Tasting Plate by choosing cheeses, meats and condiments, which are supplemented by crackers and bread. It’s a simple and straightforward way of dining, which is actually refreshing in this day and age of complex menu items that come with encyclopedic descriptions.
Many of the charcuterie items come from local producers with whom Salt Tasting Room has a close relationship, and cheeses come through select cheesemongers all over the world. On the day that we visited, the 10 cheeses included a Red Leicester from the UK, a French Comte and a local BC cheese called Happy Days. The cured meats ranged from a fennel salami from Moccia’s, Sec Maison from Oyama Sausage Co., and hot capicollo from JN & Z. Needless to say, with such a wide selection of delicacies, we chose our cheese and cured meats and entrusted our server to pair them with the appropriate condiments.
Our Tyrolean speck, a salt-cured and cold smoked pork charcuterie, tasted like refined and slightly more fatty prosciutto. I loved that it was sliced paper thin, which gave off more smokey perfumes to aerate my nasal passages. It was paired with a nutty and sweet Spanish fig & walnut bread.
Cured beef tongue from Oyama Sausage Co. was just what the doctor ordered. With a hint of smokiness in the background, these luscious cuts of fatty and tender tongue practically melted in my tongue, complemented with a hit of locally produced grainy Guinness mustard.
A classic and most flavorful Italian Toscano salami with fig from Moccia’s was paired with briny meaty Basque olives, a perfect companion to enjoy with my glass of Alvear’s CB brand of Fino Jerez sherry from Spain.
We wanted to try a local British Columbian cheese, and our server gushed about the Ash Camembert. It was paired beautifully with the honey-like fruity sweetness of Spanish quince paste.
Customizing your own Tasting Platter and pairing it with wines is the general rule at Salt Tasting Kitchen, but diners who may feel incomplete without a little more grub can order salads, soups, grilled sandwiches (for lunchtime only) and desserts. Chef Lee Humphries of The Irish Heather, a local gastropub, also provides handmade terrines and pâtés.
Salt Tasting Room has a large room in their basement called The Salt Cellar which houses a long communal table that opens to the public on Friday and Saturday nights. Otherwise, it’s used for private functions, parties and wine tastings sponsored by local wine producers. We got to take a quick tour of The Salt Cellar, a beautiful industrial space that also houses their meat curing room, encased by clear glass on all 4 sides to entice hungry and tipsy diners. What a perfect space to gather friends for a dinner party, drinking wine and sampling cheeses while enjoying an unobstructed view of hanging salamis and pork legs.
Salt Tasting Room is open every day from noon till midnight, and an ideal place for quick nibbles, mid afternoon booze or late night eats. With cheeses and charcuterie that change daily, you will never have the same plate of food here, and every experience will be a new journey into gourmet heaven. Dare to take the adventurous and shady walk down Blood Alley to find this gorgeous restaurant where they’ll reserve your space with a name tag and a not-so-bloody piggy bank to welcome your arrival.
45 Blood Alley Square
Vancouver, BC V6B 0C4, Canada
Open daily noon till midnight
Random trivia: Did you know that ancient texts and historians suggest that Eve’s fruit of temptation in the Garden of Eden may have been a quince, rather than an apple?