Frankie Harrington, Justin Witcher & Shaun Layton
Co-Owners, Como Taperia, Vancouver
Great decisions always seem easy in retrospect. Serve high-end seafood in tins? Of course, people will love it. Encourage your customers to stand up while eating? Why not. Sherry on tap? A can’t-miss proposition—you should do vermouth too! Use the much-maligned word “tapas”? Perfect! People have super short memories.
The reality is that, in the hands of a lesser team, any of the above deviations from the norm could have been the kiss of death for a new room. But as channelled through the passion of Justin Witcher, Frankie Harrington and Shaun Layton, the result is Como Taperia, the buzziest, busiest, all-around-most-fun spot in Vancouver.
From left to right: Harrington, Witcher and Layton. Photo by Makito Inomata.
The relaxed, convivial atmosphere Como exudes has very little to do with chance and quite a lot to do with the buckets of experience each team member brings to the operation. Layton is one of Vancouver’s most lauded bartenders, with stops at L’Abattoir, Juniper and Yaletown’s George; Harrington co-founded the perpetually popular sandwich spot Meat and Bread, and Witcher cooked at the ultra-high-end Clayoquot Wilderness Resort near Tofino. Together they help foster a vibe that honours the classic tapas bars of Madrid and Barcelona that they so love, with a dose of West Coast casual, all while still offering an old-school level of service (one of them is invariably working the door and welcoming guests to the packed room every night). They’ve been rewarded with near-constant lineups from devoted fans, along with plenty of accolades (they were enRoute’s number two restaurant in Canada last year), but for this trio the real prize is that they finally have a place to go in their home city that’s like the ones they visit when travelling—all they had to do was build it.
Recipe: Braised Oxtail from Como
Q&A with the Como Crew
What’s been your most memorable meal?
SL: On one of our R&D trips in Barcelona we got a table at El Xampanyet, a place where we usually stand at the bar. It was like eating in the middle of a hurricane, there was so much craziness around us.
Most underrated ingredient?
SL: Red Boat fish sauce—add that shit to anything you are cooking, even paella or Bolognese.
JW: Probably fennel. It’s so flavourful. I use it in all my mirepoix preparations, soups, sauces, stocks. It elevates the flavour profile like no other veg can.
FH: Olives, of course.
What’s your favourite unusual food and drink pairing?
SL: Basque cider and fried chicken.
What’s always in your fridge?
JW: Hot sauce. I probably have 10 types going at any given time.
FH: Butter, anchovies, parsley, lemons, wine.
What’s your biggest restaurant pet peeve?
SL: People that yell “Opa” when a glass breaks; the word “handhelds” on menus; restaurants that make you “settle at the bar” before you transfer to your table.
What are your desert island kitchen gadgets?
JW: A 24-inch Suisin Japanese chef sword, matches and a satellite phone.
FH: Butane torch and butcher twine.
What songs are always on your dinner party playlist?
JW: Leon Bridges’s “River” and Kodak Black’s “Ex Calling.” Opposites attract.
What’s your go-to breakfast?
JW: Chickpeas and eggs! So many ways I’ve prepared this in the last year, and all so different. One day it’s Spanish, the next it’s North African. Versatile is the mighty chickpea!