Sheep beware! A Judas Goat will lead you to slaughter, while its own life will be spared. Thankfully, we Homo sapiens possess an arguably higher level of intelligence that allows us to better assess the threat of imminent danger. It was this fight or flight response mechanism which found us venturing deep into the underbelly of Gastown on a dark Friday night against all our better instincts, along a trash bin-strewn, junk and junky-scattered Blood Alley, and safely through the door of Sean Heather and Scott Hawthorn’s newly opened Judas Goat Taberna.
Packed into a teeny tiny space are 24 seats, a long window ledge and stools, one group table and a series of two-tops, a miniature open kitchen featuring Executive Chef Lee Humphries, and a back bar displaying wine and Sherry bottles next to a spotlit bust of Belgian cartoon adventurer, Tintin. Most noticeable is the gigantic text mural by local artist, Robert Chaplin, its words regaling the stressful work life and subsequent nervous breakdown of one such Judas Goat. (Check out its full story and text here)
Seated at the prime people-watching window stools, we sipped our piquant Spanish ’06 Vino Zaco Tempranillo (only $38 for the bottle, $7 for the glass). Due to opening weekend hustle and bustle, we were told sangria recipes were in the midst of being perfected, and that we should keep an eye out for a “sangria-off” in the very near future.
We’re given golf pencils and paper panel menus upon which we’re instructed to write down how many of each item we’d like in the accompanying box, which gleefully reminded me of Chef Carles Abellan’s Tapas 24 in Barcelona, considered by many to be the best tapas joint in the Catalan capital.
The list of ingredients is immense, ever clever and playful, like the two bite bruschettas ($2.25 each or four for $8) that featured chorizo, sweet caramelized onion and warm dark chocolate, all sharing the surface of one tiny crostini. Sherry-stewed mushrooms and melted Comte cheese made for another great version of this nibbly as well.
Vibrant and tangy red and golden beets were served with greens, aged Sherry vinegar and shaved ricotta to make for a perfectly seasoned starter salad. Following that were the city’s best meatballs, of the most decadent beef brisket variety, served pintxos (or pinchos) style with tiny toothpicks in a piping hot spicy tomato sauce.
Under the category “Pressed, Potted, or Cured”, we found plump and luscious prawns potted amongst a citrusy pistachio butter, to be spread over its accompanying crostinis. And then came the lamb cheek. With exactly the type of colourful flavour combination for which Chef Humphries has developed an unwavering foodie following, this category winner featured crimped leaves of Savoy cabbage surrounding meaty pieces of warm lamb cheek, served as a slice of warm terrine and finished with an earthy white truffle oil.
Just a hop, skip and a jump from its sister restaurants, the Irish Heather, Shebeen, Fetch Hot Dog Stand, Salt Tasting Room and the Salty Tongue, Judas Goat Taberna is a welcome new addition to this ever-expanding empire. At this rate, we’ll have a different Hawthorn, Heather & Humphries-run establishment to frequent every single night of the week.