The last time Phil and I went to Victoria, BC, it was on our honeymoon, over 12 years ago. We wandered around in the rain, eating fish and chips and kissing in all the romantic spots around the city. Yet, despite the warm fuzzies we get when we think about Victoria, we had never made our way back there until this summer, when my Grandmother’s 100th birthday gave us the perfect reason to revisit the island.
In addition to its abundance of romantic locales to kiss your sweetie, I was happy to find that Victoria is a destination for anyone looking for a culinary adventure.
What we ate:
Brasserie L’Ecole – 1715 Government St, Victoria, BC
Brasserie L’Ecole was on the top of every person’s list we polled on where to eat, and its easy to see why – it’s simple French food done very well. We popped in late one evening for a snack and ended up sampling the gougeres, the french onion soup, a striploin steak and the smoked tuna tartine, as well as a couple of classic French cocktails. The theme of the night was cheese – the gougeres were light and airy and packed with cheese, the soup was presented with cheese bubbling down the side of the bowl like lava and even the steak had an outstanding roquefort butter melting over top.
For as much as we love (and indulged in) all things cheese, it was the smoked tuna tartine that stole the show. Every bite was packed with perfectly balanced layers of flavour – the smokiness of the tuna, the rich, creamy tang of the ricotta, and the salt & pepper combo of the capers and the arugula. The instant we finished the dish, Phil was already looking forward to returning the next night for another order.
North 48 – 1005 Langley St, Victoria, BC
We managed to sneak into North 48 for the end of the happy hour which scored us some cheap appies and $5 Tiki drinks. We started with some homemade cheese whiz, fried brussels sprouts salad, and “dry ribs” before sharing a burger. The “dry ribs” were actually deep-fried nuggets of pork belly and were the standouts of the appetizers we ordered; with a crispy exterior and a soft, buttery interior, each bite was an indulgence.
The burger was a solid offering that was topped with gruyere cheese and a smoked tomato jam which was also on the table as the house ketchup. We were also given a tray of various house-made Batch 48 hot sauces (with flavours like Hawaiian Punch and Mango Serrano) that added an extra punch to each dish.
Red Fish Blue Fish – 1006 Wharf St, Victoria, BC
The other place that was recommended by nearly every single person we talked to was Red Fish Blue Fish. Situated in a shipping container right on the dock in the inner harbour, the setting was right for exceptionally fresh fish, and we were not disappointed. We had heard the line ups could be long (like, 3 hours long!), so we decided our best bet would be to go at an off-time and, hopefully, spend more time eating tasty fish than standing in line for it. At 3pm, we waited about half an hour to order and another 10-15 minutes to get our food, but that time was spent chatting up others around us and deciding what to order, so it didn’t seem too bad.
We ended up getting 2 pieces of halibut and chips, an albacore tuna tacone, and some deep-fried pickles. I would skip the pickles next time and focus solely on the fish. The tuna tacone (a hand-rolled soft taco in a cone shape) was so fresh and light and delicious – definitely a nice departure from the deep-fried goodness that made up the rest of the meal. And the crispy, tempura-battered halibut was the star of the show – not at all greasy, the batter wasn’t too heavy and the fish inside was moist and flakey. I can see why this place gets all the love it does.
Relish – 920 Pandora Ave, Victoria, BC
When travelling, if you find a restaurant that you love, talk to the people there to get other suggestions of places to try; there’s a good chance they will steer in the direction of other restaurants you’ll love. This is exactly what happened at Brasserie L’Ecole, where we spoke to the owner, Marc, and he suggested we try Relish for brunch. We never would have considered it on our own, and we could not have been happier with that advice.
Relish hasn’t been open very long, so there wasn’t the standard brunch lineups that snake around other eateries but, with the quality of the food here, it won’t be long before the word gets out. Phil had the house smoked pork eggs benny and I had the brioche french toast. There were more creative items on the menu (the brunch fried rice and the kimchi meat balls come to mind), but the brunch staples that were placed in front of us displayed a talent of making even the simplest of dishes extraordinary. No corners were cut – the hollandaise on the benny was bright and flavourful, not watered down to make it last, and the french toast was covered in fresh figs and berries that added a freshness to combat the buttery, eggy bread.
What we drank:
Habit Coffee – 552 Pandora Ave, Victoria, BC and 808 Yates Street, Victoria, BC
Our home away from home in Victoria was a little Air BnB that supplied a basket full of tea, but no coffee, so we quickly had to find a way to get our fix. Thankfully our friend Jen, who is originally from Victoria, told us about Habit coffee which we happened to walk right by every morning on our way downtown. It must have been meant to be.
Habit uses Victoria’s own Bows x Arrows coffee and that tasty brew, combined with the warm atmosphere and the incredibly friendly staff, made this a welcome stop for us every morning.
Clive’s Classic Lounge – 740 Burdett Ave, Victoria, BC
Tucked away in the Chateau Victoria hotel, Clive’s is at the forefront of the cocktail culture in Victoria. We did a small bar hop on our first night in Victoria, and as we chatted with the bartenders at each stop, it became clear that all roads led to Clive’s. They have cocktails for every taste – from signatures drinks like the Sparkling Violette (which includes gin, violette liquer, and sparkling wine) to old-time classics like the Churchill (scotch, sweet vermouth, cointreau and lime juice). There are also several different Tiki drinks on the menu, and if you can’t get behind a good Tiki drink, then I feel bad for the sadness in your life.
West Coast Brewery Tours – email@example.com
Victoria is home to a massive craft beer explosion – with several unique, craft breweries making their home in the city. West Coast Brewery Tours will choose 3 breweries of varying sizes and drive your group to each of them for tours and tastings. On our trip we started with Phil’s favourite Canadian brewery – Phillip’s Brewing Company – the largest on the island. Next we visited Lighthouse Brewing Company in Esquimalt, and finished the tour at Moon Under Water Brewery and Pub for more tastings and a bite to eat.
Our guide, Elton, was fun and full of information about the craft beer scene in Victoria, and the tastings at each brewery were plentiful, to say the least. Even the most hard-core beer drinkers were tapping out by the last stop. This was a great tour – well worth the time and money – and a great chance to experience beers that normally don’t make their way off the island.
This is really just skimming the service of everything Victoria has to offer, and the great food and drinks only add to the charm of the city. Whether you go for the stunning coastal views, the cute boutique shops and museums, or your grandmother’s 100th birthday, Victoria makes a great little getaway. And I can guarantee it won’t be another 12 years before we find ourselves back there again.