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.

Osoyoos, British Columbia, in the Okanagan Valley

We are off to the Okanagan Valley. Driving through the North Cascades National Park on Route 20 in Washington State is a treat in the fall. This is Jays first time, so I drive to give him ample opportunity to take in everything. Near the summit we round a curve just as two bear cubs scurry over the far side of the road. We just glimpse their rears and cute furry tails.

Heading to Osoyoos, BC we pass through Winthrop, WA and stop in one of my favorite little towns – Twisp. The Cinnamon Twisp Bakery beckons like the sirens, and we head in for a hot cup of coffee and some lunch. After a delicious black bean/corn salad we are on the road again, nearing our intersection with Route 97, our path north to British Columbia. Only 85 miles to go.

Spirit Ridge Resort
Spirit Ridge Resort and NK' Mip Cellars appear beyond the grapevines and sagebrush.

Slowly the terrain turns to desert as we head north. We arrive in Osoyoos, British Columbia late afternoon. Just 5 minutes north of the US Border, the town of 5,000 is located on Osoyoos Lake, and surrounded by grasslands, highlands and mountains. As we make our way around the lake toward Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa, New Mexico and Santa Fe come to mind. Indeed, this region is Canada’s only desert and is dotted with sagebrush and cactus.

Drawn to autumn colors and quiet, we arrive in the Okanagan Valley just after the Fall Wine Festival. Still time to enjoy the warm October days and the benefit of lower rates at the Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa.

spirit ridge resort sculpture
Dynamic metal sculptures populate the resort.

Ready to stretch our legs after a day of driving, we check in, then walk over to the NK’Mip Cellars tasting room. Nk’Mip Cellars (pronounced in-ka-meep) is owned and operated by the Okanagan People, one of Canada’s First Nations. While enjoying their Pinot Noir and Merlot, we learn that the NK’Mip Cultural Center is located within the resort compound as well, and make a note to check it out in the morning.

Passatempo is Latin for “passing the time,” and this bistro-style restaurant at Spirit Ridge Resort is the perfect place to finish the day. Good food and good wine with my sweetie. Plus, a panoramic view of Lake Osoyoos, the vineyards, and the desert. We are offered seating on the patio or indoors, and choose an indoor table by the window. Our lovely waitress helps me choose a Filet entree with Juniper sauce, mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables that is gluten-free. Jay decides on the Rack of Lamb. Both are beautifully presented, delicious, and enjoyed with glasses of Merlot, chosen after a small tasting of red wines. Many of the ingredients are locally grown and organic. (We return the next day for lunch and share a fresh Seafood Caesar Salad and delectable Polenta with fresh local corn).

spirit ridge grapevine
We take a path through the vineyard on our walk up from the lake.

After coffee and tea at a carryout across the way, we begin the second day with a brisk walk down to the lake and back in the cool morning air. The Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre is just opening as we return from our walk. The state-of-the-art interpretive centre is an architectural marvel sensitively constructed into the hillside. Extensive indoor and outdoor exhibit galleries create a fun, interactive learning environment with hands-on displays, education stations and two multi-media theatre experiences.

Warrior sculpture at Spirit Ridge Resort
Warrior sculpture welcomes visitors to the NK'Mip Cultural Center

We take our time looking at the exhibits (inside & outside) and discovering the fascinating stories and rich living culture of the Okanagan people. The outdoor area exhibits are amazing – we marvel at the metal sculptures. Then we buy two cold bottles of water and head out to explore the two kilometers of walking trails they have created. Enjoying the smell of the sage grasslands and pine forests along the way.

NK'Mip cultural center at Spirit Ridge
Outdoor exhibit at the NK'Mip Cultural Center at Spirit Ridge
spirit ridge cultural center woman harvesting
Another fantastic metal sculpture of a woman harvesting
spirit ridge cultural center spirit animals
Spirit animal sculpture at the Cultural Centre

As you can tell, we are walkers… but you could also spend time at the Sonora Desert Spa, or golfing at Sonora Dunes Golf Course, both at here at Spirit Ridge. And we are wine lovers, so we have a late lunch and go wine tasting.

Our favorite vineyards, all about 10 km north of Osoyoos in the Black Sage Bench area:

  • Church and State
  • Hester Creek Estate Winery
  • Oliver Twist Estate Winery
  • Stoneboat Vineyards
  • Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, where we have a delicious and romantic dinner that night in the Sonora Room Restaurant. Jay dines on the special, a perfectly grilled pork chop served with a homemade pasta incorporating fresh squash and cabbage served with a cider, calvados, beef stock and butter sauce. Outrageous! I have the Fraser Valley Duck Breast, equally sublime, with roasted new potatoes and autumn vegetables. This night all diners receive a complimentary appetizer of Jingle Bell Red Peppers filled with cheese and a complimentary dessert – mini squash creme brulee. Good thing we walked a lot today. And yes, we savored a bottle of Burrowing Owl Merlot, I think it was a 2007, but not sure. Excellent.


Fresh from the Okanagan Valley and Joie Farms is an inspiring new cookbook ~  MENUS from an ORCHARD TABLE: Celebrating the Food and Wine of the Okanagan by Heidi Noblemenus from an orchard tableA collection of outstanding seasonal recipes from Joie Wines and Farm Cooking School’s renowned outdoor orchard dinners. Menus for an Orchard Table allows readers to re-create some of Joie’s most extraordinary dishes, with essays on the Okanagan’s wine country cuisine and superb photography. The recipes are divided into the courses served at Joie’s orchard dinners, which balance regional wines with the accompanying dishes. Among the selections are Chilled heirloom yellow tomato soup garnished with tomato confit and chive oil, Country lamb and olive terrine with Joie pear and shallot compote and brioche, and the Bittersweet Chocolate Tarte with port. Unfortunately, the cooking classes are no longer offered, but the spirit lives on in her cookbook.

Fishing with John

When Jay & I settled in the Pacific NW almost eight years ago, locals spoke of a memoir about fishing in the Northwest – Fishing with John by Edith Iglauer. In her middle age, Edith, who had lived a sophisticated, urban life in New York, met a commercial salmon fisherman in British Columbia, married him, and spent the next four years fishing with him on his 41′ troller, the Morekelp. As transplants from the Washington DC area, Jay & I identified with Edith’s wonder and the sense of adventure she found in the Pacific Northwest.

Last Friday we spent an afternoon on the water with our own fisherman friend, John. Our task was easy enough – bring lunch and cold drinks for the three of us and meet him at the dock at 11am.  Prawn season in the San Juan Islands lasts only a hand full of days, so all the fisherman are eyeing the tide charts in anticipation. We motor toward Spieden Island, and John’s “secret spot”, hoping to avoid the crowd. As we arrive, we smile… there are fisherman everywhere – it seems the secret is out! Not to worry though, we are armed with John’s special bait recipe and I am confident that the four traps we lower into the depths (300 to 500 feet) will do the trick.

Once the traps are baited and lowered, we relax in the brilliant midday sun to enjoy our lunch. Immediately afterwards John begins work on the electric winch – this is the first use of the season. Turns out that a little improvising is needed to make it work but the guys succeed and soon the first trap is on it’s way up!  We all think that it feels extra heavy, laden with a full catch. What a sight! As the trap clears the water we see over 40 gorgeous spot prawns pulsing with life in the cage.  Their eyes glow fluorescent copper. Quickly they are released into the waiting bucket… a few escape onto the deck, adding to the excitement. Jay sorts them and the undersized prawns are released back to the water.  We having a satisfying number of “grandpa” jumbo prawns.  As we move from trap to trap, the catch gets better and better.

Our day ends happily with our quota of spotted prawns! With their succulent sweetness, they will be the stars of our Mother’s Day Fettuccine Alfredo!

Spotted Prawns from the San Juan Islands, WA
Spotted Prawns from the San Juan Islands, WA

Our recipe is inspired by Saveur’s Original Fettuccine Alfredo

Fettuccine Alfredo with Fresh Prawns

1 1/2 lb. prawns or shrimp (cleaned,reserving shells to create stock)
1 cup white vermouth or white wine and 1 cup water for stock
1 lb. dried fettuccine (I am gluten-free and recommend Tinkyada Brown Rice Fettuccini)
1⁄4 lb. unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1⁄2 lb. finely grated parmesan (about 3 1⁄4 cup)
chopped tarragon and Italian parsley for garnish
black pepper

  1. Clean the prawns. To make the stock, place the shells in a pan with 1 cup water and 1 cup white vermouth or white wine and bring to a simmer.  After 20 minutes, remove from heat, and strain liquid and return to heat.  Bring to a boil, and poach prawns in the stock for about one minute, until done.  Remove prawns with a slotted spoon. Only add as many prawns as will be covered by the boiling stock.  It’s OK to cook the prawns in batches.  Set the poached prawns aside in a bowl.  Gently simmer the stock for a few minutes while you prepare the rest of the dish.
  2. Cook fettuccine, following directions on the package, until pasta is al dente. For the best results, Saveur says to use dried pasta, which doesn’t break as easily during tossing as fresh egg pasta does.
  3. While pasta is cooking, cut butter into thin pats and transfer to a large, warmed platter, along with the olive oil. Drain pasta and place the pasta over the butter and olive oil on the platter.
  4. Sprinkle grated parmesan and prawns over the pasta and drizzle with 1⁄4 cup of the prawn stock.
  5. Using a large spoon and fork, gently toss the pasta with the butter and cheese, lifting and swirling the noodles and adding more stock as necessary. (The pasta water will help create a smooth sauce.) Work in any melted butter and cheese that pools around the edges of the platter. Continue to mix the pasta until the cheese and butter have fully melted and the noodles are coated.
  6. Garnish with chopped tarragon and parsley, and a grind or two of black pepper to taste.
  7. Serve the fettuccine immediately on warmed plates.

SERVES 4 – 6