Moving from the outskirts of down town to the core, The Black Hat is the next stop on our tapas tour. It also happens to be Victoria’s newest small plate venture. And might I say, the most expensive – but with good reason?
Upon arrival the room is stark yet well assembled, inviting yet functional. Hues of grey, black, and the occasional pop of colour draw us in as the hostess seats us. It’s all very “underground” jazzy.
Immediately we’re greeted with a bag of in-house truffled potato chips and water. Browsing the drink list, the wine selection is superb and whilst the beer list leaves a bit to be desired, their cocktail menu is fun and enticing. Our server is friendly, attentive, professional and knows the night’s features. Good start.
We start with two selections off their raw menu – the Tuna Tataki ($14) served on a Himalayan salt plate with spicy mango sauce and Tuna Ceviche ($14) quick marinated in citrus, fennel, chili and celery. Both are pleasing to the senses. The tuna is delicate and soft but more like sashimi than tataki; while the ceviche is rough and fresh, chopped into larger than average pieces. I was slightly worried that such bold preparation of ceviche would make the fish tough – but it was almost as tender as the tataki even as the citrus cut through the fattiness of the dish.
For our second course we opt for the feature local Spot Prawns on Toast with shaved garlic, parsley and olive oil (approx $14). Simple and Elegant. Not much of a “wow” factor as far as cooking goes. That being said, if you like spot prawns – and who doesn’t? – you’ll dig this dish.
For our final savoury course we make our way to the Pork Belly Dry Ribs ($13), deep fried and seasoned with star anise salt and black pepper, and Baccala Fritters ($16) served along side a chili and anchovy relish and preserved lemon aioli. The dry ribs are okay – but not as exciting as you might expect from pork belly. They could use a creative dipping sauce since most of the fatty moisture of the meat was lost in the frying process. Meanwhile the baccala fritters are crispy, light and creamy while the richness is cut with the well executed relish – overall a pleasure to eat and a well composed dish.
Round off the meal, we order a piece of the Boston Cream Pie with marinated cherries. The presentation is excellent, the cherries a great match for my glass of port. The cake though… Meh. It’s texture is moist and enjoyable but the flavour is missing. Not exactly a spectacular finish. Too bad.
On this night, the food is solid. There’s nothing wrong with it – in fact, some of the dishes are quite well done. But it isn’t worth the $150.00 price tag pre-tip. Similar restaurants in town are serving the same quality of food – such as The Superior. And as we’ve seen at Vis a Vis, the same quality of wine too. The difference is they’re not charging a kidney for it. I have no problem digging deep into my handbag for an outstanding meal, but it’s gotta be just that – outstanding.
Two days later I return with a friend for a light lunch and a couple of cocktails. We order the Salt Spring Island Mussels ($16) with caramelized onions and fennel in a maple chipotle cream sauce served with a side of truffle fries. Walking in with only half an hour before closing, the server is as gracious as she had been two nights before. Our mussels however are quite belligerent. They refuse o release from their shells, sending repeated sprays of sauce all over the table and forcing our teeth to really grind to chew them up. They are extremely over cooked. Aw man!
Unfortunately, after a total of six trips to the Black Hat, this has become a constant theme. While some things are spot on, others totally miss their mark. And for a place that boasts a $130.00 Wagyu Austrailian strip-loin and in the same moment calls their establishment a “neighbourhood spot”, inconsistency just isn’t good enough for me.
Will I go back again? Probably. Will it become a regular dining spot? Unlikely. The cost and unmatched performance of the food doesn’t warrant it. Should you give them a visit? Sure. It’s a fun room, great drink list, friendly service, and the food is better than a lot of places in town. It’s just too bad the consistency isn’t guaranteed while my wallet pays the price.
1005 Langley Street
T. (250) 381-2428
Hours of Operation:
Open for Lunch, Wed – Sat 11-2
Open for Dinner, Wed – Sun 5-Late
~ Kristy Gardner