Spring has sprung and with it, a spate of new and unique dining options in BC’s capital. Focusing on the lunch hour, Victoria’s culinary landscape is rife with great daytime options. The downtown core is a prime example. Weekdays the streets buzz with small independents competing for your hard-earned lunch money. Places like Devour, Clay Pigeon, Italian Foods for their grilled panini, Choux Choux Charcuterie, Chorizo & Co. for Spanish bocadillos, all serve creative and value-driven plates to sustain you for the rest of the day. While a few of these rooms are making a go of the dinner trade, after 7pm, the streets are – to coin a phrase describing some of Victoria’s residents – nearly dead. So lunch it is, and here is a quick recap of some of the latest inspirations to put on your plate.
The food truck scene is slowly picking up momentum and chef Jonathan Pulker of Refiner Diner is one of the forces behind the drive. The aim is better fast food, which translates to quality, and often local, ingredients served from his bio-diesel fueled truck. Hearty BLT’s, grilled cheese and all natural beef burgers rule the day, with lots of extras to layer on the goodness. The poutine du jour using hand cut Island grown Kennebeck potatoes ranges from a curded-up pulled pork or chicken variety, to a killer bolognaise, or homemade mushroom gravy for vegetarians. The signature crispy cheeseburger is created by frying cheddar on the flat top to the right level of melted crispiness while the burger juice, adds the right amount of succulence. This heavenly creation is all held together with the requisite tomato, special sauce and lettuce, on a toasted sesame brioche bun.
- Refiner Diner, Tuesday to Saturdays, 11:30 to close, 950 Yates St. refinerdiner.com)
At the smoked and cured meat emporium of The Whole Beast, high noon on Fridays and Saturdays means two things: smoked pork ribs and char sui. Sold by the 100 grams, the plump porcine pieces are placed on trays, still warm from the smoker, delicately perfuming the air with meaty goodness and Asian spices. Insiders know to get there early to get their quota. The ribs are first brined, then dry rubbed with a house spice mix before being smoked to perfection. The char sui, made from the picnic part of the shoulder to insure even marbling, happily submits to a long session involving honey, Chinese five spices, cinnamon, and other ingredients before being slow cooked. This is strictly hands-on stuff, and best enjoyed while sitting in the car, napkins at the ready.
- The Whole Beast, Friday and Saturday 12 Noon, 2032 Oak Bay Avenue thewholebeast.ca).
Fans of chef Anna Hunt’s comfort foods can rejoice that she’s back at the stove, albeit four days a week, at Charelli’s & Co. The long narrow 12-seat space, an annex of cheese haven, Charelli’s, is where Hunt applies her creativity to a weekly menu cooked on two induction burners, small oven, steam table and panini press.
The dishes are geared for easy take away with a changing array of creative sandwiches, luscious baked goods, handmade sausage rolls, pasta and a couple of hearty stews. Think pear and triple cream brie sandwiches with caramelized onion, arugula and thyme aioli, or the Nicoise on a bun with seared Albacore, egg, green beans arugula and Kalamata tapanade. Cheese, sourced from the “best pantry in the world” right next door, works into the equation, most often in the indulgent grilled cheese with bacon jam on Byron Fry’s Red Wheat Bread.
- Charelli’s & Co., Thursday to Sunday, 7 AM to 3 PM, 2863 Foul Bay Rd. charellis.com.
Chef Dan Hayes at The London Chef offers a novel luncheon concept at his Fort Street cooking school. The Lunch & Learn series is a twice a month to weekly class, like a live cooking show, where you lunch on a two-course meal while the chef demonstrates a recipe. Themes range from French bistro or Turkish to Southern Spain or Indian, and I recently signed up for the Indian class. The first course of lentil tomato curry, potato and peas served with mini chapatis was plated up as we sat down, and then Hayes demonstrated the steps to making the entrée of Goan coconut prawn curry with greens.
The pace was swift and we picked up cooking tips along the way: peel ginger with a knife so you have some of the “meat” left, perfect for tea or flavoured sugars and salts, the importance of onions in Indian cuisine, the frying of spices, and using prawns with the shell on, “that’s where the flavour is.” All the while, Hayes came around, saucepan in hand, showing us the various stages of cooking the dish from frying spices and deglazing the pan with tomatoes to smelling the pungent asafoetida – try it sometime, I double dog dare you!
The finished dish was served within 35 minutes, allowing enough time for any 9 to 5ers to enjoy and still make it back to the office. It was freshly made and generously portioned, with a balance of spice and coconut.
Although, no official recipe was given out, we all took notes, and I plan on recreating the dish at a later date. Price? $27.50 with an oversized cookie for later.
- The London Chef, 953 Fort St., check schedule for dates and themes, thelondonchef.com
There’s nothing I like better than a leisurely lunch, and chef Oliver Kienast and Brooke Fader provide the venue with their Wild Mountain pop-up lunches at historic Glenrosa Farm. The farmhouse sits above Pedder Bay in rural Metchosin – about a 30 minute drive from Victoria – and the grounds, dotted with heritage apple trees, is home to a handful of sheep, donkeys, horses and chickens.
A long table was set in the light-filled great room with welcome canapés and glasses of bubbly. The March event was a celebration of spring, with wild foraged ingredients setting the tone. Nettles, nodding onion, day lily, miner’s lettuce, sweet cicely and sea lettuce worked their magic onto the wonderful menu and were collected by Kienast days before the event. The couple, who live on a small farm in nearby Sooke, raise their own produce and heritage pigs, some of which made its way onto the day’s farm-to-table menu.
Fader, cellar master at Sooke Harbour House, and no stranger to the restaurant industry, deftly paired BC wines with the five-course meal, but also paired fresh juices as an option. They were all creatively wrought and wonderfully balanced. The first course of stinging nettle soup with a fresh oyster came alive with pickled sunchokes, and the oyster liquor crème fraiche provided a creamy briny counterpoint.
Scallops with smoked jowl, beets, arugula, and oats paired with day lily. The oat’s creaminess really balanced out the lily’s bitter notes.
Lingcod sat on a puree of parsnip and potato, topped with sweet cicely and almonds with crispy sea lettuce. It sang to the seasons, perfectly bridging winter and spring.
Freshly made cheese with greens and miner’s lettuce, with apple and seeds and grand fir honey was beautifully refreshing, and beautifully presented.
A delicate verbena-infused panna cotta for dessert had just the right amount of jiggle, and was served with moreish housemade buttermilk caramel, pears, dates and walnuts.
The lunch took a leisurely three hours, ending with cups of coffee and housemade salted chocolate cookies. What a way to herald in the spring and spend a Sunday afternoon. As all pop-ups, the schedule’s not set in stone, so best to contact Wild Mountain to book your own culinary adventure soon.
~ Shelora Sheldan