(Images by Choli Designs)
When you think of Oak Bay, images of grandiose houses, flags on street lamps, and little old ladies with walkers come to mind. Unwittingly, you have been fooled. Tucked in between the resident neighbourhood pub on one side and a Tudor sweet shop on the other is Vis a Vis – a quaint but elegantly casual rustic wine and charcuterie bar. Who’d a’ known?
Unlike owner Matt McNeil’s other restaurant ventures – such as The Penny Farthing, The Irish Times and The Bard and Banker – Vis a Vis boasts a more simple yet sophisticated decor. Exposed brick, gorgeous wooden tables, chalkboards, earth tones, and charcuterie cabinets.
To start, I order a 5 oz. glass of Le Vieux Pin Viala ($11), one of the 24 available table wines on order. With the option to choose a 1 oz., 5 oz., or 8 oz. pour, or a tasting flight, and utilizing a fancy air control system (enomatic preservation), Vis a Vis is able to offer a greater variety – and quality – of vino by the glass than most. So while you aren’t going to find a $7.00 glass of wine here – unless you opt for a 1 oz. taste – your mouth is in for a treat! Very helpful, every item on the food menu is paired with a category of wine (i.e. soft and fruity, aromatic, big and bold) to make pairing more accessible.
Of course, if wine isn’t your thing, Vis a Vis also offers an array of locally crafted beverages to whet your whistle including products from Victoria Spirits, Phillips Brewing, Driftwood Brewery, Lonetree Cider, and 2% Jazz Coffee.
Speaking of taste buds, how about the food?
In 3 words? Seasonal, simple, flavourful. In more than 3 words? Well…
This particular night we start with a sampling of their cheese and charcuterie selections ($5 per item). While much of the charcuterie is made in house, such as the glazed pork hock terrine, smoked pork belly rillette and the corned bison tongue, they do support other Island meat producers including Two Rivers Meat’s bresaola and bison salami, The Whole Beast’s lemon fennel salami, as well as Choux Choux Charcuterie and Hilary’s Cheese Co. The possibilities are endless. If you like cheese and meat paired with a side of gingered quince jam or pickled vegetables, this is your kind of place.
Next we move onto the albacore tuna tataki with lemon reduction, fennel and radish slaw ($10), followed by grilled octopus with squid ink fettuccine, salsa verde and chorizo ($13). The tuna is so delicately prepared and contrasted against the slaw and the citrus really makes the dish come alive in my mouth. It is, as far as tuna goes, perfection. Likewise, the grilled octopus’ smokey essence pairs strikingly with the bold and black squid ink pasta; in an unlikely combination – the salsa verde and chorizo – both lighten and heighten the taste experience to a whole other level. It’s fresh yet comforting in the same moment. My only complaint is that when ordered together the octopus obliterates the tuna. In future visits, it would be best to order the dishes separately and finish one before sampling the other.
2 hours later, we order our main course: Ricotta ravioli with pine nuts, bell peppers, sauce verte, and confit lemon ($12) and upon recommendation of the Chef, the pork belly with grapefruit, endive, and maple onion caramel ($10). Holy Hannah! Let me be straight with you – the ravioli slaps me in the face with Spring – green, seasonal, fresh, yet rounded and nicely balanced. And the pork belly astounds with it’s opposing textures and flavours – soft belly and crunchy endive, rich pork and refreshing citrus. I’m impressed.
Hungry (not really) for something a little sweet, we complete our meal with the Spanish inspired house made churros with maple bacon sugar and white chocolate apple sauce ($6). Have you been to Spain? This is it – Canadian style. You can’t ask for anything more. Sugary, nectarous, carb happy dessert. Heaven.
Curious why Chef Jeff Keenliside makes the food he does, he tells me it has to do with “complexity in production and simplification in service. The processes like sous vide cooking, terrines, smoking, curing, sauces, relishes, pickles, etc. and having things ready to plate are the future of food, as opposed to having mostly raw ingredients which require a lot of a la minute cooking. Still bringing in great local fresh ingredients but putting in hours of production time to simplify service without simplifying what we do too much”. I love it.
As per usual, the service was bloody impeccable. Friendly, high energy, enjoyable, informative and attentive.
All in all, a great experience. My only wish: that the restaurant be more centrally located. For those willing to brave the trek up to the mean streets of Oak Bay, make sure you stop in and have a bite. Your tummy will thank you.
2232 Oak Bay Ave
T. 250 590 7424
Open daily, 11 till late.