Feasting our way across some of BC’s hidden gems.
The challenge of visiting any island: Often, it takes work to get there. As a traveler, there’s not much
within one’s control; choppy seas and foggy skies can lead to schedule delays that can’t be contested. Sometimes Mother Nature just wins.
Yet this unpredictability also defines the beauty of island hopping. You must simply surrender, go with the flow, sit back, and enjoy the journey. Arriving at the destination comes to feel like an accomplishment, and what you find on the island often feels like a hidden treasure, an insider’s find—a place where the pace is slower and the people kind.
We recently dove into the thriving culinary scene unfolding on nearby Vancouver Island, and we came away feeling happy, full and mightily impressed. We learned that a strong sense of community there pervades amongst restaurants, bars and local businesses, and loads of passionate talents are in the midst of creating delicious dishes and drinks with ingredients that are regional, seasonal, sustainable and fresh. Here are suggestions for some of the best spots to taste the flavors of the island:
In Victoria, take a bike tour with The Pedaler, where friendly guides lead you to some of the city’s best finds (think hot coffee or cold brew at Fernwood, to-die-for ice cream sandwiches inside Cold Comfort‘s charming, vintage space, sweet treats at Bon Macaron Patisserie plus other surprises that range from pizza squares to Jamaican patties). Depending on your palate, choose between tour itineraries like Beans and Bites, Hoppy Hour Ride and Eat.Drink.Pedal.
These days, no visit to Victoria is complete without a stop at the hip, new Public Market at Hudson, where each local vendor’s stall seems to get tastier than the next. “Must visits” here include the Salt Spring Island Cheese and Silk Road tea spaces, as well as Sutra (for the lamb curry dog), Victoria Pie Co. and La Cocina de Mama Oli (try the tortilla soup, for starters), where owner Olimpia clearly seasons her traditional Mexican dishes with genuine love.
If you’ve somehow saved room for more food in Victoria, grab appetizers at the Catalano Restaurant and Cicchetti Bar, where we’d recommend the Artisanal Salumi and Cheese Board accompanied by the refreshing Catalano Coastal Gin Tonic (any cocktail that features spirulina, of all things, piques our interest). You won’t soon forget your dinner across the street at 10 Acres, where you can enjoy the perfect-10 ambience and dishes showcasing the islands freshest meats, cheeses, seafood and seasonal produce coming straight from the restaurant’s own farm. Next to a fireplace in the heated garden courtyard, enjoy fried heirloom green tomatoes, quinoa fritters, Sooke trout, Salt Spring Island mussels and the steak and frites platter, featuring some of the best truffle fries you’ll likely ever encounter.
After you’ve sated your appetite for Victoria, hop on a short ferry ride across to Salt Spring Island, an artsy and quirky Gulf Island known for its creative community and weekly market. While on the island, pop into the Salt Spring Island Cheese factory and shop for a behind-the-scenes glimpse, or enjoy a tasting or two at local wineries like Mistaken Identity. (Consider booking a room at nearby charming B& B Hedgerow House.)
It’s mealtime back on the mainland; check out Cowichan Valley, where a food revolution is under way. (Cowichan’s nickname “The Warm Land,”comes from the First Nations Coast Salish, who named the area Quw’utsun’ or Cowichan, meaning “land warmed by the sun.”) Cowichan chefs pride themselves on maintaining a tight-knit community; rather than acting as competitors, they often host fundraisers together to benefit the food system of the valley.
We highly recommend lunch at the lauded eatery Hudson’s on First (in Duncan, “City of Totems”), a warm and inviting turn-of-the-century house where rainbow prism reflections dance across tables and soothing global tunes play overhead. Chef Daniel Hudson, who appeared on “Top Chef Canada,” uses only ingredients from the valley, ranging from foraged mushrooms to local wasabi from Nainamo. Afterward, wile away afternoon on the delightful grounds of Merridale Ciderworks.
After all this east coast eating, it’s time to head west along a wending road to beautiful Tofino, a spot so alluring words hardly do justice. From the region’s expansive, tranquil beaches, watch intrepid surfers by day and a galaxy of stars twinkling overhead by night. There’s magic in Tofino everywhere you look.
Tourism Tofino sums up the destination nicely: “It’s the feeling of peace you get from gazing at the calm inside waters of Clayoquot Sound. It’s the bobbing heads of surfers braving legendary swells on endless beaches. It is food so fresh that you often pass it on your morning stroll. It’s muted silver skies ushering in brilliant coloured horizons just for you, or it seems. It’s salt bathed streets scattered with restaurants, galleries, and resorts constructed in true West Coast fashion. It’s living history nestled into surreal landscapes: this is Tofino, and you have to see it to believe it.”
While in town, be sure to enjoy a delicious dinner at Wolf in the Fog, an outstanding new addition to the Tofino culinary scene (the restaurant’s funky artwork is worth a visit in itself!). Wolf’s friendly owners created the space for folks who were into fine dining, “but over the pretension.” (We’ll cheers to that!) Don’t miss the seaweed salad, rare albacore tuna (served with leeks, bacon, celery and apple) or the Szechuan Surf & Turn platter. If your budget allows, book at a room at Long Beach Lodge Resort; a special, decadent destination whether you arrive in the height of summer or the middle of the enticing storm-watching season. Staying at this place will remind that, indeed, life is good.
Thanks, Vancouver Island, we’ll no doubt be back again soon!