Chef Mike Robbins designs AnnaLena as a reflection of his life

Photo of Chef Mike Robbins

AnnaLena, one of Vancouver’s eight named Michelin Star restaurants, is located in Kitsilano Beach, a short walk from downtown Vancouver. Consistently named as one of the 100 Best Restaurants in Canada and featured in En Route Magazine as one of the Top 10 New Restaurants upon opening in 2015, it is co-owned by chef Mike Robbins and Operations manager Jeff Parr.

The restaurant was named after Robbins’ two grandmothers.  “Anna was always the host of the party and loved to drink and socialize so the bar area is inspired by her.  Lena was the soul of the family and she loved to cook.  My first memory of food came from her so the kitchen is inspired by her,” he explains.

AnnaLena is a true reflection of Robbins’ unique life journey, passions and collections. “My food is a marriage of my multicultural upbringing in the East side of Vancouver and the cooking techniques I learned as an adult,” says Robbins, whose menu puts a creative and innovative spin on West Coast Canadian food, while supporting as many local suppliers, producers and farmers in the process as possible.

Robbins also designed AnnaLena to be a reflection of his life.  “The restaurant defines the culture I grew up in. The bare bricks, the Jordans’ sneaker collection and Gameboys are all things I love, but with today’s edge put on them,” he shares. Since opening the restaurant, Robbins, with the help of his family of carpenters and interior decorators, has re-designed it eight times to keep it fresh and creative. 

Having spent his career in the culinary profession, training and learning from living and working in restaurants around the world, Robbins says he didn’t have any one mentor.  “Instead, it was a million little things and many chefs and teams.” 

His advice to aspiring chefs is to assume that achieving success in any career is going to be the hardest thing they will ever do. He adds, “It will be hard for reasons you did not expect, but when you look back you will realize you learned from each so just keeping working at it and you will get there.”

The decision to shift AnnaLena to a tasting-menu restaurant in 2020 was partially a response to COVID restrictions and partially a desire to create a very specific curated experience for guests. “With limited seats, [how many?] we realized we could do so much more with each plate. Our tasting menu lets our guests trust our chefs as we have created a very unique and perfectly flavoured meal experience,” explains Robbins.

AnnaLena identifies each unique six-week tasting menu by Chapter. Turnip and radish crudité with burrata, black garlic Caesar, charcoal croutons and lamb saddles with fried lamb belly, asparagus and romesco jus are just two courses offered on Chapter 63.  Each Chapter includes Robbins’ original menu plus his hand-written notes listing cooking techniques, local farms, producers and suppliers plus any revisions. Hannah Brook, North Arm and Hazelmere Farms, are just a few of the restaurant’s many local partners. “Because the weather et cetera impacts what our farmers can grow, I need to revise menus. Last week fresh peas were not available, so I substituted asparagus. Then when peas came in, I switched to peas,” explains Robbins. 

Priced at $98, each five-course menu includes three to four additional small surprise snacks, including palette cleansers and petite fours which change with each season and Chapter. “The only menu item we consistently feature is our proprietary torn bread, that our customers absolutely love. We make three-kilogram loaves, which is then hand torn, soaked in oil and charred on very high heat.”

Wine pairings are also available for $72 and are thoughtfully curated by AnnaLena’s Platinum award-winning Wine director Reverie Beall and built around small, independent and organic producers from B.C. and around the world.  

Achieving a Michelin Star was never something Robbins actively pursued. However, achieving the star has been a proud achievement for the entire AnnaLena team.  “For our entire team, which has been together for eight years, achieving this Michelin Star together has brought us a great deal of attention, which we appreciate. We will try to continue to create a special place for our guests to enjoy and strive to improve and evolve,” concludes Robbins.

By Morag McKenzie

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