Francesco’s attention to detail and Italian delicacies ensure it is one of Vancouver’s top fine dining restaurants.

With bright burgundy-coloured walls, modern décor, and soft music filling the air, Francesco’s Ristorante Italia, located off Burrard and Smithe, radiates a wave of warmth over guests the minute they set foot inside the door.

Francesco’s makes the statement that a mixed traditional and contemporary setting can not only exist, but thrive. But, while undergoing minor upgrades such as new artwork, the classic Italian restaurant has remained just that—classic. White tablecloths continue to line the two-tiered space, complete with a petite candle and flowers dotting each tabletop. Locals, tourists, and celebrities including Bill Clinton, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt return again and again, in a city where, according to Francesco, definitive Italian cuisine continues to be a rarity. The larger bar which the new owners plan for 2014 will only add to its appeal.

Our first item was a Buffalo Burrata, roma tomato and basil starter drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, followed by a seafood medley featuring pan-seared scallop, prawns, and mussels in a matchless broth. Unparalleled entree combinations, fresh ingredients and the level of detail posed on each plate continue to make the establishment a top spot for fine dining—while nabbing numerous awards, including “World-Famous Restaurants International.”

“I believe the quality of the food deserves to be beautifully displayed,” Don Francesco emphasizes. “These days, restaurants pile food on top, everything is molded together. There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s what the market seems to demand. However, to me, it’s so beautiful when you can assemble the potatoes, display the carrots on their own. It’s so beautiful when you can individually taste a hint of butter, a little bit of lemon. It’s those flavors that enhance the experience.”


 Don Francesco, the man himself.
Don Francesco, the man himself.


If there’s anyone who has perfected the dining experience, it’s Francesco. Born and raised in Sicily, Italy, his culinary career launched at age 13 under the watchful eye of his father, and later soared in Rome with his uncle. His next decade was anything but conventional as he travelled all over Western Europe, honing his craft in various kitchens with top chefs and finally opening his own restaurant. After arriving in B.C. in the 1960s and working in the prestigious Vancouver Club, Francesco started toying with the idea of opening a restaurant here. In 2001, passion and experience aligned, and he opened the doors of his dream, paying tribute to his culinary heritage.

Delicacies such as wild boar, ostrich, quail, rabbit, slow-roasted duck a la Vignarola, and, of course, a wide range of pastas, line the menu—complemented by over 300 wines, 80% of them from Italy. Our third dish was perfect for a rainy evening: roasted lamb chops in a rich demi-glace, served with roasted fingerling potatoes and carrots. The layering of flavors complemented by fresh vegetables made the dish light yet satisfyingly filling. 
“At Francesco’s you won’t find us taking shortcuts to cut labor costs. We’re one of the only restaurants in Vancouver that makes sauces, otherwise known as ‘mother sauces’, from scratch. That attention to detail was bred from a young age. It’s about standing up for the way it should be.”

As we round off the evening with a fresh scoop of lemon sorbet over blackberries and strawberries, it occurs to me we’ve been sitting at our table for three hours. A quick glance at the still-packed room and I’m reminded time doesn’t exist at Francesco’s. It’s about savoring the moment and slowing down to experience everything Italy has to offer.

Adds Francesco: “When guests leave they say ‘that was fantastic, we can’t even begin to explain what a magnificent evening we had’. It’s that experience that gives me a positive attitude, knowing people had a memorable time.”