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ON THE PLATE: The Second Coming of Finch's

Theres much to adore about Finchs Tea & Coffee House on West Pender, starting with its beguiling good looks.

Theres much to adore about Finchs Tea & Coffee House on West Pender, starting with its beguiling good looks. Its debit card terminal and the mixed modern fashions of the clientele are the only things within eyeshot that would suggest that one was comfortably seated in the 21st century. The rest is straight out of Churchills England, only there are no ration cards or menacing Heinkels flying overhead.

The eight-year-old day-time charmer has always leaned convincingly on this 30s/40s aesthetic, but not in a sham way. Its so convincing that one half expects to find a well-thumbed first edition of For Whom The Bell Tolls left behind at a table or some Vera Lynn seducing from an especially raspy gramophone.

I wrote of its attractiveness in a review a few years back, and though Im not in the habit of quoting myself, the words still apply: Its a small space, with about 20 chairs in total, but each table seems its own little world. Over the years Ive probably sat at them all, but the choicest seats are at the three window tables of two, all incubated from the rest on raised platforms and semi-shielded from the street by neatly tied curtains. Theyre like little peripheral pods: perfect for quiet conversation, reading, or idle day-dreaming. The old hardwood floors give it a solid base of creaky character, while the dozen or so leafy plants, the dilapidated state of the ancient walls, and all of the aged cabinetry, mirrors, light fixtures, and various bits of ephemera lend it an open-faced honesty.

And then theres the food: a simple assortment of red-leaf salads and a dependable daily soup anchored by a collection of baguette sandwiches, one of which is widely considered one of Vancouvers must-eats. Its a lovely number of sliced pear, prosciutto, blue-brie cheese and roasted walnuts spritzed with oil and vinegar. The flavours and textures fuse and resonate gently but beautifully (more piano than fortissimo), and those who partake in its joys seldom forget it. (If it had a musical score, it would be Mozarts Clarinet Concerto in D).

And as good as it tastes, it looks even better. The makers are exacting in their artistry, so every sandwich looks as if its been prepped by a food stylist for a glossy magazine photoshoot. Truly, its one of those rare edibles that equally consumes its devourer.

But as I mentioned, I wrote about it for these pages several years ago. Its not my intention to repeat myself. The reason that Finchs is in my wheelhouse again is because its owners, Jamie Smith and Sheryl Matthews, have just picked up a second space at 501 East Georgia in Strathcona. Thats at the end of my block, so you can imagine its like getting advance warning that a lost Matisse is about to make an appearance at the garage sale next door.

Until last month, the address had long housed an awful victualling station called U-Go-To Store. My family nicknamed it Id-Rather-Not Store. Smith and Matthews are replacing it with something called Finchs Market. The concept is similar to the original Finchs (we can expect much of the same menu, including teas, coffees, and the sandwich of legend) but with a strong fresh food market component leading the way. That means lots of local produce, retail foodstuffs from small and independent suppliers, housemade curries, meat pies, fruit pies, Beef Wellingtons, Knickerbocker Glories, custards, and so on (continuing with the Brit theme). Theyll even be making their own ice creams and popsicles.

Smith grew up cooking in the old blethering place pubs of Somerset where there were always freshly-shot pheasants strung and a strong sense of community (he only just got his Canadian citizenship last month). Such an upbringing goes far in explaining his period tastes in food and design. A life-long tinkerer, he is infatuated by solid craftsmanship.

Ive been poor and decadent all my life, he told me during a tour of the new space last week, so Ive had no choice but to be creative and resourceful. Hes building Finchs Market largely on his own. His hands will see to all the demolition, plumbing, flooring, and painting. Hes even doing all the carpentry, too (chairs, benches, tables, counters, etc.). Virtually everything within will be handmade, excepting the antiques, which he will have personally restored.

Naturally, all of my neighbours are justifiably excited about it. We (and the city at large) have to wait until September until its finished, but no matter. Good craftsmanship takes time, and I suppose that if Finchs Market is to be any good, it should take time. It goes without saying that it will be well worth the wait, and so we wait with the original to tide us by.