Victoria, British Columbia: Restaurants, cafes and bakeries

In autumn Vancouver Island abounds with heirloom tomatoes, pears, apples, plums, exotic squash, pumpkins, wild mushrooms…

Restaurants

The Fairmont Empress Hotel

Bengal Lounge ~ Fairmont Empress Hotel (721 Government Street). Drawing inspiration from Queen Victoria’s role as the Empress of India, this colonial style lounge is known throughout Victoria for its authentic curry buffet and signature cocktail menu. Frequented by residents and visitors alike, the lounge offers a delicious curry lunch and dinner buffet, an international à la carte menu, and signature cocktail and martini drinks. On the evening we dine, the Indian buffets tempts us with butter chicken, tandoori chicken, lamb stew, basmati rice, paprika onions, mango chutney, cilantro green sauce, pappadoms, and a cardamom crème brûlée for dessert. This authentic buffet is delicious with many gluten-free options.

Camille’s~ Located in Bastion Square, in the heart of Old Town Victoria; Local Food Restaurant Of The Year 2012. Camille’s is nestled into the cozy nooks of an 1898 heritage building giving the restaurant a lovely combination of fine dining in a comfortable, casual atmosphere. The menu is diverse, seasonal and changes daily. The evening we visit, several entrees are prepared sous-vide. I choose the flank steak stuffed with sausage and Jay has line caught ling cod with a tarragon mouse and crumbles of dried chorizo. Both are delectable – cooked perfectly and moist. Camille’s is a restaurant at the top of its game. (Sous-vide is a culinary technique in which vacuum-sealed food is immersed in a water bath and cooked at a very precise, consistent low temperature for longer periods of time.)

Cafe Brio ~ 944 Fort Street. An old favorite that we return to each visit to Victoria. Tonight we begin with a homemade pâté with pistachios, lamb salami, and an olive stuffed with meat and fried. On this cool, damp night I settle on the venison loin with red wine, cabbage, apples, and a pear with cacao nibs. Jay hones in on the succulent lamb shoulder steak with braised fennel, heirloom tomatoes, and cannelli beans. Very full, but still sipping a little red wine we end with two homemade chocolate truffles. Glorious… thank goodness we are walking back to our hotel.

Brasserie L’Ecole ~ 1715 Government Street. A Brasserie is “an unpretentious restaurant that serves drinks, especially beer, and simple or hearty food“. This definition parallels Brasserie L’école classic French bistro/brasserie design and nightly changing menu. This time of year you can enjoy Mussels & frites, Sooke trout, Roasted chicken with chanterelle, Steak & frites… The name “l’école is a nod to the history of the building, which once was a Chinese Schoolhouse. They don’t take reservations so plan to arrive a bit before they open.

Red fish Blue fish ~ 1006 Wharf Street (at the foot of Broughton on the pier). This funky seaside fish shack is an outdoor waterfront eatery in an up-cycled cargo container on a wooden pier in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. It’s a unique, fresh, and sustainable approach to the old fish ‘n’ chip shop. There is always a line and we jump right in, ordering a BBQ wild salmon tacone with spicy spot prawn mayo, and a Seafood Poutine (local shrimp + smoked tuna belly bacon bits + crispy shallots & miso-clam gravy) with Kennebec Chips. Top notch food and a fun waterfront experience. Closed November, December & January.

Rebar Modern Food ~ 50 Bastion Square. Since 1988, Rebar Modern Food has been Victoria’s favorite restaurant and juice bar, featuring fresh, healthy, predominantly vegetarian fare. We stepped in for a late morning meal. My decaf mocha made with almond milk was delicious; my scrambled eggs okay. Jay dug his Miso soup and Blue bridge fruit drink (blueberry, apple and grapefruit juices). The Rebar Modern Food Cookbook is popular with vegans, vegetarians, and anyone looking for delicious ideas with a funky twist.

Tre Fantastico ~ Parkside Victoria Resort & Spa, 810 Humboldt Street. Born from a passion for ale, wine & coffee, and featuring great food accompaniments & light meals using house-made products and local food. We don’t usually eat in the hotel, but this café is an exception… great coffee, and our favorite breakfast becomes Poached Eggs & Beans: 2 Kalamoon Farm Eggs served over Spiced White Cannellini Beans with Double-Smoked Bacon. We notice the Housemade Granola with pecans, pumpkin seeds, raisins, natural yogurt & rhubarb compote is very popular…

Murchies Tea & Coffee ~ 1110 Government Street. John Murchie immigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1894 and founded Murchie’s Tea & Coffee. Today the downtown location is a vibrant tea room, bakery, coffee shop and retail store. Seeking respite from the cold we duck into Murchies for another yummy almond milk mocha, hazelnut hot cocoa, and warm slice of their flourless chocolate cake. YUM.

Santé Gluten-Free Café ~ 2630A Quadra Street. Victoria’s first dedicated gluten-free café. Santé accommodates dairy-free, soy-free, low/no sugar and almost any other sensitivity. Desserts, muffins, and other baked goods are created daily. We pick up a grilled chicken wrap and a breakfast wrap to go which are yummy. The menu also includes a Paleo section, a soup du jour, Quiche, pizza, lasagna and salads.

Origin Bakery (Gluten-free)
Origin opened its doors in March 2010 to become the first bakery in Victoria to offer exclusively gluten-free baked goods! It all started when two friends, Tara Black and Marion Neuhauser, realized that their friends with dietary restrictions were having a hard time finding tasty wheat-free baking. “Our use of high quality, natural ingredients (many are local and/or organic), along with our discerning sense of taste, ensures we provide baking that everyone – gluten intolerant or not – can love. Since we only use gluten-free ingredients, we can make sure there is no gluten contamination, so go ahead and enjoy without worry!” We didn’t get to indulge this trip, but will next visit.

Camille's welcoming entry.

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Rich fall colors of Virginia creeper.

Off to Victoria, British Columbia, for three nights to escape phones, computers and all the trimmings that come with working at home. The reality of our sweet retreat sinks in as we park in the ferry lane and seek warmth from our fleece blanket on this crisp autumn morning.

We plan to walk everywhere, exploring Victoria on foot – visually soaking in  the rich fall colors and feasting on the bounty of foods from the farmer’s fall harvest. A poetic time of year, Keats called the autumn – “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. While Albert Camus felt “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”.

Later in the morning the sun is shining brightly as the Washington State ferry (from Friday Harbor, WA to Sidney, BC) glides smoothly across the glassy water. Soon the ferry is passing the mostly barren side of  Spieden Island with its randomly placed ice age boulders. In the early 1960′s the actor, John Wayne, and his business partners imported big game animals here. Their vision was to have a private island for their sport game and hunting hobby. Fortunately, the idea was short-lived and today the forested north side of the island is home to hundreds of European Sika deer, Asian Fallow deer and Corsican Big Horn sheep.

Passing by Spieden Island on the ferry.

About 75 minutes after departing the San Juan Islands we are slowing for our landing in the port of Sidney, British Columbia. Located at the northern end of the Saanich Peninsula, on Vancouver Island, Sidney is a popular eco-tourist destination, with whale-watching, bird-watching, kayaking and scuba-diving… and a 2o minute drive from Victoria.

Not sure when we last visited Victoria, maybe 6 years ago? In preparation for our trip, and open to the mystery and savings of booking our lodging on Hotwire, I visited their website. After providing the details of our trip (dates of stay, area we want to stay in, how many people) Hotwire provides a list of available hotels in that area with the star rating. The mystery is that Hotwire will only show you the name of the hotel after you have paid for the booking. I prefer 3.5 stars or better, and have read that Hotwire gives the most savings if you use it to book hotels that are better than 3.5 stars (three stars or lower and the savings become small, so you are better booking through the hotel itself). Important note:  Hotwire does not refund, so you want to be pretty sure you will be there!

Atrium entrance to the Parkside Resort & Spa.

I choose a four star hotel for $80 a night, and am very pleased when Hotwire reveals that we have selected Parkside Victoria Resort & Spa. Situated just one block from the Victoria Conference Center and two blocks from the Inner Harbor, the location is perfect for us – we can walk everywhere and enjoy the quiet that sets in just a few blocks from the downtown. Designed, built, and furnished with sustainable development in mind, it is Canada’s first resort hotel built to LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)  standards. The grey, charcoal and earth tone palette throughout the hotel helps bring the beauty of the West Coast outdoors inside, and creates a peaceful and calm environment. We thoroughly enjoy our three nights stay in the one-bedroom suite with a kitchenette, and balcony overlooking the interior plant-filled atrium.

The Fairmont Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria, BC.

Elegant Victoria retains “a bit of Old England” with its beautiful gardens and historic buildings. Named after Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and of the Dominion of Canada, Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, with British settlement beginning in 1841.

Blue skies shine through a building façade being saved (and decorated) during renovation.
Fairmont Empress Hotel bee hives.

Overlooking the inner harbor, the Fairmont Empress Hotel is one of the oldest and most famous hotels in the city. On May 26, 2011, the hotel welcomed the Queen Bee and 400,000 honeybees. The bees now live in the Centennial Garden of The Fairmont Empress and will pollinate Victoria’s hotel gardens. In total, ten hives of  European bees will produce over 1,000 pounds of honey which will be featured in the hotel’s restaurants, including world-renowned Afternoon Tea service.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia – “Although the archaeological record is still incomplete, it is clear that native people have occupied Vancouver Island for several thousand years. A tribal village society evolved with an economy based on fishing, collecting and hunting. The abundant marine and forest resources along the coasts supported a culture rich in oral tradition and artistic expression. Two main linguistic families, Salishan and Wakashan, developed and continue to exist“.

The Victoria, BC Conference Center celebrates First Nations artists.
The Gate of Harmonious Interest

In the 1980s, Victoria’s Chinese community entered a period of renewal after a gradual decline over the previous 50 years.  The Gate of Harmonious Interest was constructed at the corner of Government and Fisgard Streets as a monument to recognize and preserve the Chinese heritage in Victoria for everyone. The Gate is a gift from Suzhou, China, one of Victoria’s sister cities.

Glorious red dragon in Chinatown.

If you walk down Fisgard St. towards Wharf St., make sure to keep your eyes open for Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada. The old opium dens, gambling houses and brothels of Fan Tan Alley have now become novelty stores and souvenir shops.

Victoria is known for its strong support of cyclists and pedestrians and there is an extensive system of paths, multi-use regional trails, and cycle lanes on city streets. We spend much of our time walking around the city, along the waterfront path, and in Beacon Hill Park.

Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, BC.
Vibrant hydrangea in Beacon Hill Park.

Beacon Hill Park is located in Victoria along the shore of Juan de Fuca Strait. The 200 acre park was officially established in 1882, after being set aside in 1858 by James Douglas, governor of Vancouver Island. The name derives from a small hill overlooking the Strait, which once held navigational beacons. The hill is culturally significant, having been a burial site for the First Nations Coast Salish people, who are the original inhabitants of the Greater Victoria region. Now it provides scenic vistas of the Strait and the Olympic Mountains of Washington.

The park is beautifully landscaped and manicured with bridges, lakes and ponds, and an alpine and rock garden. It is home to many species of ducks, birds and wildlife. I read that a pair of Bald Eagles nests in one of the huge trees, and a large family of Great Blue Herons also nest in a thicket of Douglas-fir trees at the west end of the park. Enjoyed by tourists and locals, the park has woodland and shoreline trails, two playgrounds, playing fields, a petting zoo, tennis courts, many ponds, and landscaped gardens.

A short walk from Victoria’s Inner Harbor is Fisherman’s Wharf… a floating boardwalk with food, shops and colorful float home community.

Not to miss is a walk around the Victoria Inner Harbor after nightfall. The Parliament Buildings light up the sky and cast a magical spell over the harbor.

Night falls on Victoria's Inner Harbor.

Attractions in and around Victoria:

  • Alcheringa Gallery – Contemporary Indigenous Fine Art of the Northwest coast, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Museum quality aboriginal art.
  • Art Gallery of Greater Victoria – The museum features contemporary exhibition space and a historic 19th-century mansion called Gyppeswick, and features a permanent collection of more than 15,000 objets d’art, drawn from Asia, Europe, North America, Canada and Japan. There is a permanent exhibit on Emily Carr and her contemporaries.
  • Butchart Gardens – Internationally acclaimed gardens created after Robert Butchart exhausted the limestone quarry near his Tod Inlet home, about 14 miles from Victoria. Still in the family, the gardens display more than a million plants throughout the year.
  • Maritime Museum of BC – Enjoy a rich and vast link to the province’s nautical roots. Among a superb array of artifacts, are fascinating displays on Pirates, Heritage Vessels, Shipwrecks and special exhibits.
  • Royal BC Museum – A great regional museum with an incredible showpiece of First Nations art and culture, including a full-size re-creation of a longhouse, and a dramatic gallery with totem poles, masks, and artifacts. The museum has an IMAX theater showing a variety of large-screen movies.
The Alcheringa Gallery on Fort Street in Victoria, BC.