My home base of Vancouver B.C. is well established as a foodie destination in Canada, if not the world. It is also enjoying an explosion of craft breweries making it a beer lovers paradise. Yes, it is a great time to be a foodie in Vancouver. This got me thinking about what it is like in other major Canadian cities. Are the global trends of sourcing fresh and local ingredients for our meals and expecting more than watered down beer isolated to just Vancouver? With that in mind, I made the short trip across the Georgia Straight for a weekend of exploring Victoria’s food and drinks scene.
It didn’t take long for this foodie weekend to begin. Shortly after leaving Vancouver on board the brand V2V Empress luxury passenger ferry, I tucked into a Salish Sea inspired meal that kicked this weekend off right. V2V Vacations uses Victoria catering company Truffles who emphasize on sourcing local and sustainable ingredients. I enjoyed an open faced Ocean Wise smoked salmon sandwich topped with crispy capers and washed it down with a Blue Buck from Victoria’s own Phillips Brewing Company. This was capped off with the best truffles I have ever had from Bernard Callebaut chocolate.
Again, this weekend was off on the right foot.
Once docked at the historic Steamship Terminal in Victoria’s harbor, we said goodbye to the smiling V2V Empress staff and made our way to the Hotel Grand Pacific…which was all of 50 steps away. Victoria’s downtown is incredibly compact making it easy to explore on foot. Leaving the car at home makes for an incredibly relaxing getaway, just don’t expect to be burning a ton of calories while exploring Victoria’s food and sampling local beers 😉
We had little time to enjoy our recently renovated Hotel Grand Pacific room as our foodie weekend was continuing with the most Victorian thing possible – afternoon tea.
In part due to its name, Victoria has adopted the British tradition of afternoon tea which was made popular during Queen Victoria’s reign. This posh outing of sipping tea and politely nibbling on finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off can be experienced and enjoyed at most hotels and cafes around town. We, again, didn’t have to go far as the Hotel Grand Pacific puts on a great West Coast Afternoon Tea. The teas are exclusively sourced from Victoria’s own Silk Road Tea and are curated much like sommelier selects wine. Clearly, they don’t mess around with their teas.
Being a hot patio day I went for an iced sour cherry tea with a splash of simple syrup. The tiered tray of goodies featured traditional items with a B.C. and Vancouver Island twist. Local ingredients are incorporated where possible including dungeonous crab inside the traditional cucumber sandwiches and local prawns in the croissants. For a full peek at the menu see here.
At first look, the Hotel Grand Pacific’s Afternoon Tea does not seem like a lot of food but it adds up quickly. This left us to tap out halfway through the top-tier. At $44 per person, it is great value for a relaxing way to spend a sunny afternoon on a west coast patio. On a normal rainy Victoria days, inside the posh Pacific restaurant suits just fine.
Patio to Pub
After doing some sightseeing at the amazing B.C. Royal Museum and the quirky Miniature World, we retired to the pubs of downtown Victoria. Although I try and avoid chain restaurants where possible, Milestones has one of the best patios (upstairs) in the city. On top of that, they feature local craft beer such as Driftwood’s Fat Tug IPA at a very reasonable $5.50 per pint (Friday special). Cheers to that.
Feeling snacky (but nowhere near hungry yet) we made our way across the street to 10 Acres Commons for some freshly shucked local oysters ($3/each). More local beer followed along with some not-your-average pub food that included Local Berryman Farm Berkshire Pork Chops ($25) and Seafood Gratin ($15). Commons, I will be back.
Drinks continued at the coolest bar in the city, Bard & Banker. This former Bank of British Columbia turned popular pub features a beautiful interior with brass ornaments, balcony seating, and waitstaff uniforms that instantly takes you back. The building first opened its doors in 1885 and served as a bank until 1988. During that time the Bard of the Yukon, Robert Service, worked at the bank. This famous former employee now lends his name to the pub.
Our weekend exploring Victoria’s food and drink scene continued with beer…for breakfast. Victoria’s love of micro brew beers stretches far beyond Vancouver’s craft beer rise. Brewpubs have been popular in Victoria since the 80’s and have been keeping locals lubricated ever since. With limited time and a desire to hit the best spots, we enlisted the help of the Pedaler who offer a cleverly named Hoppy Hour bike tour ($89/pp). What better way to explore Victoria’s best brewpubs?
This three-hour bike ride takes you to 3 different breweries including Spinnakers, the oldest brewpub in Canada. There we sampled in-house brewed beer paired with, of all things, chocolate truffles. It’s surprisingly much better than it sounds.
Other highlights on this Hoppy Hour Tour included a ride over the car-free Selkirk Trestle which is a part the Trans Canada Trail. There, and along the way, we were given interesting tidbits of not only Victoria’s beer background but about how the city came to be. This makes the Pedaler’s Hoppy Hour tour so much more than checking out Victoria’s beer scene. This value continued at the Moon Under Water brewpub where we shared stories, sampled some excellent sours, and ate everything deep-fried from onion rings to Mars bars.
As our tour wrapped up I was surprised and disappointed that stops didn’t include local craft breweries such as Hoyne, Philips, or Driftwood. That’s when I found out that Victoria’s tasting room laws are even worse than Vancouver’s. What I can I only assume is because Victoria already has an established brewpub scene, you can’t purchase beer to consume at a brewery if it does not have a kitchen. What you can do is sample by donation. This pleased me so with guidance from our Pedaler guide and bikes from our hotel (free and included in our stay at the Hotel Grand Pacific), we headed back out.
Victoria Food Tour
By the time Sunday rolled around I realize we did a great job checking out Victoria’s beer scene but not so much its food. By that point, all we had eaten was finger sandwiches and, albeit really good, pub food. It was time to move past the brewpubs. With limited time remaining, I turned to Andy, owner/operator of A Taste of Victoria, for some insight.
Our day exploring Victoria’s food scene with A Taste of Victoria began at the city’s public market, something I didn’t even know existed. According to Andy, neither do many locals. Recently established in the old Hudson’s Bay building, the Victoria Public Market is based on the Chelsea Market in New York. Although not as big, Victoria’s market does impress. With its emphasis on supporting and showcasing Vancouver Island’s local farmers, bakers, brewers, and butchers, the Victoria Public Market is the freshest place to eat on the Island.
We started at Olive the Senses Gourmet Foods Ltd for a sampling of their countless blends of oils (truffle and butter for the win!) and balsamic vinegar. From there we took our favorites blends over to the French Oven Bakery and sampled some fresh bread with the oil including the softest to ciabatta I have ever had. This was finished off with one hell of a chocolate croissant.
Now you may think, what do olive oil and French baking have to do with Victoria? In both cases, the owners have brought what they know and love about their families background to Canada through food. Victoria (and Canada) is a very culturally diverse place and this is often best tied together through food. Andy does a great job of doing that by incorporating a little bit of each sampling with the next. This continued with a visit to Roast, a sandwich shop dedicated to getting back to basics. There we were treated to a “Cup A Balls,” a beef and pork blended meatball topped with in-house baked pork crackling and swimming in an amazing Arrabbiata sauce which we sopped up with bread brought over from the French Oven Bakery.
Our tour of the market finished off with a sampling at Silk Road Tea, the very same used for the afternoon tea at the Grand Pacific Hotel, before making our way through Victoria’s historic Chinatown. Andy’s background in history and time spent as a local petty cab driver shined as he took us down tiny alleys and explained the interesting stories of Canada’s oldest Chinatown. This was probably my 15th visit or so to Victoria and I never realized how much I have yet to explore.
Sült Pierogi Bar is another great example of Canada’s diversity displayed in its food. Although not a British Columbian food, Sült Pierogi Bar takes pride in “New Canadian Cusine” and uses local ingredients to stuff and top the best pierogis I have had outside of Warsaw. This includes Bacon Confit that is sourced from a local farm and slow-cooked and braised with love. I would return just for a side of those tasty bits…
When I questioned why Victoria is so good at sourcing local ingredients, Andy pointed to the fact that Victoria is on an island thus forcing local restaurant’s hands on this. This means eating fresh is nothing new to Victoria and is a big part of why it is such a great place to eat. Makes sense right? The result of using local ingredients means fresher, tastier, food that is not only good for you but good for the economy and the community.
Win. Win. Win.
As if to tie my weekend exploring Victoria’s food and drink scene together, this Pierogi restaurant also has a great bar that features classic and Canadian cocktails with a local twist. Try the Sult Caesar ($13) which features house-made Clamato and topped with beef jerky and a deep-fried pierogi!
Exploring Victoria’s Food Scene – I’m Stuffed
After a quick stop at Rogers Chocolates, a Victoria staples since the late 1800’s, our time exploring Victoria’s food and drinks scene came to a sad but satisfying end. With a mix of old traditions and new ways to present them, Victoria is a food lovers destination. Paired with a craft beer scene ready to burst into the mainstream, not to mention a brewpub history older than any other city in Canada, Victoria is also a great place to unwind. Mix all that with a culturally diverse city that has beautiful architecture and history to share, Victoria makes for a great escape from Vancouver and beyond.
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My time exploring Victoria’s food and drink scene was made possible by a Tourism Victoria.
As always, the experience, opinions, and love of bacon bits is my own.