I was definitely expecting Vancouver to have a cracking food scene, given its location on the West Coast (some have called it the ‘original’ Portland), all the different cultural influences and the fact it’s a major city. But what I was less prepared for was how good the food would be over on Vancouver Island, where we headed for a road trip to celebrate Jamie’s 30th birthday.
After an insanely beautiful ferry crossing and a short drive, we got to Victoria, BC’s capital, hungry, so we were pretty pleased to find an outdoor waterfront eatery called Red Fish Blue Fish – a West Coast take on a fish and chip shop. We knew it was going to be good because there was a huge queue (always easier to take when it’s sunny) and there were people sat all over the wooden wharf eating fish and chips and fish tacos that looked delightful. While we were waiting we read a board next to the kitchen which explained that all the fish and seafood is part of the Ocean Wise Vancouver Aquarium program. It’s similar scheme to MSC in the UK – ensuring restaurants are using sustainably caught or farmed fish and seafood.
We had some amazing tuna, Fanny Bay oyster and shrimp tacones, and next time I’m definitely going back for the fish and chips and tempura fish subs – this was the first time I realised that in this neck of the woods, it’s quite normal to have halibut, rather than haddock, as the basis for fish and chips. Oh yeah.
We didn’t want to fill up too much though, because we were having dinner at our hotel – the legendary Fairmont Empress which overlooks the town’s Inner Harbour and beautiful Parliament Building. We ate in the ‘Empress Room‘, which is old school in the best possible sense – all plush carpets, heavy wood furniture and linen table cloths – but not in the least bit stuffy, thanks to the food and staff. In my experience, they don’t really do stuffy over there.
Our waiter Marc was a bit of a riot – he kept us smiling with his stories and maitre d Kirk gave us a tasting tour through British Columbian terroir with his selection of wines from the Okanagan Valley. I had no idea that Canada was producing such amazing wines – including some distinctly Burgundian Chardonnays and silky Pinot Noirs. Like I said, they don’t export much, so I fully intend to get my fill while I’m over there.
The food was farm-to-fork West Coast fine dining at its finest. My risotto of sweet lobster and crispy sweetbreads with truffle sounded like it could have been too much, but while it was creamy and incredibly rich, it was elegant and perfectly balanced, and left me enough room to really appreciate my delicious sablefish – similar to halibut but more oily – with Mediterranean vegetables. A plate of local cheeses for dessert further revealed the restaurant’s dedication to using the best local produce – apart from one, they all came from Salt Spring Island – which I’ve heard is something of a haven for ingredients. This is something I’ll be investigating further once I get back there.
If you ever do find yourself in Victoria, staying or having the famous afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress, make sure you try the honey. It’s made with bees they keep themselves out in the garden, and given the climate and wealth of flora, it’s really special. They even put some in the peanut butter at breakfast, which is out of this world.