What defines a Victorian institution? Longevity? Quality? Consistency? Higher ratio of locals to tourists? If so, The Tapa Bar fits the bill.
Snuggled into an ally in the middle of the downtown core hides one of Victoria’s most treasured small plates establishments. Spanish music wafts down the pavement while the scent of food and city mingle to create an atmosphere that’s all it’s own. Adorned in bright hues of orange, green, pink and yellow with surges of exposed brick and gorgeous wood – this venue is an eruption for the senses. Locals flock to The Tapa Bar for some of the best and most affordable food in town while tourists inadvertently stumble upon their door step to discover a vivid sensory experience.
On this particular evening the lot of us arrive to be greeted by the always cheerful hostess and are promptly seated on the outdoor patio. Lined with ambient orange bulbs and handy with over-head heaters and blankets, we cozy up for a treat of a meal.
The Tapa Bar’s wine list is fun and unusual, loaded with vino originating from British Columbia, Spain, and Latin American countries like Chile and Argentina while their martini/cocktail list begs to be sampled.
Tonight I start with what has become a go-to martini for me – the Goya’s Passion: tequila, passionfruit liqueur, lime, and a cinnamon-sugar rim. Delicately balanced with just the right amount of punch, I can easily knock back 4 of these babies without blinking an eye. Mind you, 4 of those and I’m likely to have my eyes shut tight and be curled up in a booth at the back of the restaurant. I control myself for the meal to come.
Water and a bowl of in house flavoured seeds are placed in front of us for munching while we decide what to order.
Here’s the problem: there are so many fantastic dishes on this menu, it’s near impossible to choose just a few. Luckily, the cost of dining here is minimal and thus we don’t mind returning on a regular basis. I suggest sticking mainly to the left side of the menu – their tapas style plates are far better executed than their larger meat based dishes on the right, with a few exceptions such as the Pesto Pizza with cilantro pesto, apples, pecans & smoked mozzarella with lime on the side ($15) and the grilled chorizo served with lemon ($4.5).
Tonight there are the usual suspects that we just have to have. We begin with the Heart of Palm salad on a bed of romaine, with chili aioli & salsa fresca ($7.5) and Almond Stuffed Dates wrapped in bacon, served with blue cheese crumble and balsamic reduction ($6.5). Both are absolute flavour explosions – the salad is creamy, fresh and crisp while the dates offer a deep, rich full component to our first course.
Next we move on to an order of the Papas Bravas – fried potatoes with chili tomato sauce ($6) and Chile con Queso Fondue with roasted poblano pepper, cheese, wine and garlic, baked & served with house made tortilla chips ($6.5). Who can argue with fried potatoes and spicy tomato sauce? Its a staple in true Spanish tapas restaurants and while The Tapa Bar certainly veers off the traditional Spanish-style of tapas dishes, this one beckons of Spain. And cheesy, firey goodness? C’mon! Unless you have a lactose intolerance – and maybe even if you do – you’re going to want to dip into some of this. Unlike traditional fondue which involves a flame of some sort, it’s really more like a cheese-laden dip. In my opinion, if it’s loaded with cheese, garlic and roasted peppers, it can call itself whatever it wants.
Finally the Gambas con Coco Prawns in coconut milk curry sauce with cucumber & tomato ($11.5) and Vegetarian Cubanette open faced focaccia “sandwich” served upon house made bread with melted cheese, grilled portobello mushrooms, fresh avocado, beans & salsa fresca ($10) make their way to our table. The prawns are gloriously well rounded in their flavor yet surprisingly light, while the cubanette gives us a little bit of everything – fresh vegetables, creamy cheese, meaty mushrooms and a bit of carb-happy bread to finish us off.
As per usual, I’m stuffed.
The Tapa Bar is casual and fun – an establishment suitable for anything from a simple meal with the family to a special celebration with friends. It isn’t exactly gourmet food like what we’ve experienced at The Superior, Vis a Vis or The Black Hat, but it is solid, consistent, good food with a great atmosphere, friendly service, and in my opinion, a true local hot spot. And who doesn’t want to be a local in Victoria?
620 Trounce Alley
T. (250) 383-0013
Hours of Operation:
Monday-Thursday 11:30am to 11:00pm Friday & Saturday 11:30am to midnight Sunday & holidays 12:00pm to 10:00pm
So the question to ask now is, with Victoria boasting more restaurants per capita than any other city in North America (save San Fran), how does one choose where to indulge their next craving? The best bet is to sample as many dishes as possible. And I did, with wine of course.The final result? One full tummy, a bottle of ibuprofen, a maxed out expense budget, and a happy, happy lady.