Note from editor: Our last post from great Canadian foodie John Gilchrist took us to The Land of Anne – a.k.a. Prince Edward Island. This time around? Let this travelling gourmet guide you on a walking and noshing tour of B.C.’s capital on Vancouver Island where he samples everything from maple-glazed albacore tuna to Saltspring Island goat cheesecake. Enjoy!
Until a recent visit to Victoria, I’d never had to go through security and surrender my driver’s license just to eat breakfast. But that’s the basic requirement for dining in the Legislative Dining Room in the bowels of B.C.’s Parliament Buildings.
Having done it, I can report that the experience is worth it; tables are nicely set for well-prepared, bacon-and-egg-style breakfasts (with decent coffee!), the vested servers are professional and the menu is well-priced with most breakfast items well under $10.
In this rather secretive location, you’re surrounded by the history of Canada’s western-most province—framed black-and-white photos of the early days and B.C.’s founders, celebratory knick-knacks from visiting dignitaries and the sense that little has changed over the decades.
In short, breakfast in the Legislative Dining Room helped fuel my wife and me for a walking tour of the B.C. capital.
Headquartered at the Inn at Laurel Point at the mouth of the Inner Harbour, we hoofed it all over Victoria, a seaside town that is built for walking. Being on the move piques the appetite for the next nosh and a good meal has always inspired a stroll. We’ve decided this is a blissfully synergistic way to explore a city.
WALKING FOR COFFEE & BREAD – Caffe Fantastico (one of four locations) at 398 Harbour Road in Dockside makes a great pit stop before or after strolling the Galloping Goose Trail, a hiking-biking path that winds from Victoria’s harbour along the coast past Sooke, over 60 kilometres in total. Fantastico shares space with Fol Epi, an organic bakery that produces outstanding breads from heritage Red Fife wheat flour. We had a great lunch sandwich here, a simple ham and cheese on perfectly crusty baguette, along with our caffe macchiatos one day, and returned a few times for espresso and cinnamon pastries.
WALKING FOR BOOKS & BARGAINS – Bookstores like Munro’s Books and Russell Books offer hours of entertainment for the book geeks among us. (Yes, it’s heartening to see that many other people still buy and read them.) I found a great culinary classic—Margaret Visser’s The Rituals of Dinner—that had been on my wish list for years. (For only $7!) Victoria’s downtown, especially along Government Street and Upper Fort Street, is also packed with antique shops and boutiques, making it perfect for casual strolling and shopping. And the new Victoria Public Market at the Hudson, opened in June 2013 in the refurbished Hudson’s Bay building, has created yet another culinary attraction. Dozens of vendors, from Salt Spring Island Cheese and Silk Road Tea to Cowichan Bay Seafood and Sun Trio Farm, fill the bright, airy space.
WALKING FOR BREAKFAST – Aside from breakfast at the Parliament Buildings, we indulged in the funky/grungy atmosphere and breakfasts at Shine Cafe and Jam Cafe, enjoying the eclectic crowd, the chicken and biscuits, the rich egg dishes and the bottomless cups of coffee.
WALKING OAK BAY – Under the guidance of Feast Concierge owner/tour director Karma Brophy, we took a culinary walking tour of Oak Bay, a lovely old area east of downtown. A number of food shops and cafes have recently opened along Oak Bay Avenue, including The Whole Beast Salumeria and the Penny Farthing Pub, joining long-time residents Ottavio Italian Bakery and Rogers Chocolates. We followed our tour with a “seafood smash” at The Marina Restaurant. A steaming pot of fresh Dungeness crab, mussels, clams, chorizo, smoked tomatoes and vegetables was dumped out onto the brown paper covering our table and we went to work with mallets and tongs. Messy but oh-so-good and loads of fun.
WALKING FOR DINNER & BEER – Another stroll around the harbour left us craving more seafood so we headed along the seawall walk to Spinnakers, a gastro brewpub and guesthouse that was established in 1984, decades before the craft-beer movement took off. Sitting at the kitchen bar and watching the chefs prepare seafood—house-smoked oysters, cod Cullen skink (a Scottish smoked-haddock and potato soup), and other local ingredients like lamb shank and Vancouver Island kale—and serve them with handcrafted beers is a quintessential Victoria experience. A couple more walks for meals took us to Prima Strada for primo Neapolitan-style pizzas and to Café Brio for maple-marinated albacore tuna and West Coast bouillabaisse, both excellent and, this time, paired with fine B.C. wines.
WALKING FOR EMILY CARR – A long walk took us to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and a fine exhibition of Emily Carr’s work, “On the Edge of Nowhere,” on until June 30, 2015. We also visited her grave in Ross Bay Cemetery, where fans of Carr’s work adorn the site with drawing pencils and paintbrushes. En route, we wandered through the neighbourhoods of Fernwood (dubbed Funky Fernwood for its retro, 1960s-era charm) and Cook Street, known for its cozy village atmosphere. Just west of Beacon Hill Park—another fine walking area with great vistas of the ocean—sits the Emily Carr House, a historic site.
DRIVING FOR DRINKS – While I don’t condone drinking and driving, there’s really no other way to visit Victoria Spirits and Sea Cider than by vehicle. So pick a designated driver and sip a few apple ciders at Sea Cider, and sample a tot of gin, eau de vie or Left Coast Hemp Vodka at Victoria Spirits. Alternatively, you might choose to hunker down at one of Victoria’s snazzy cocktail bars within walking distance of your hotel (a fave is Clive’s Classic Lounge, at 740 Burdett Ave.)
WALKING HOME – One night we made the short stroll from our hotel room at the Inn at Laurel Point to Aura, its dining room. With its fabulous harbour view, Aura takes the cake. And serves it, too, in the form of a Salt Spring Island goat cheesecake. And then, one more walk—through Victoria’s compact airport—one more security check and back home, our walking shoes just a bit more worn.
Editor’s note: Our writer was supported by Toque & Canoe’s partners in tourism. This post was not reviewed or edited by those partners before publication.
We lived in Victoria for several years. Often we walked to the ocean within minutes. The sea life, even at the shoreline, was abundant. Our golden retriever loved to swim in the coves off Ten Mile Point. The climate was always a plus for gardening and for us it was roses and rhododendrums. John Gilchrist has offered more than a glimpse of delicious culinary offerings, each distinctive and mouth-watering. I recall the wonderful pastries and chocolates from the Dutch Bakery. Important landmarks – Emily Carr’s home, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and the Provincial legislature are well worth a visit. There are many more galleries – including First Nations – and antique stores not to be missed….and drop in to Munro’s Book store and the tobacco shop on Gov’t. Street after walking through the lobby of the Empress Hotel.
Don Enright commented:
What a tantalizing tour of this under-appreciated city! Mr. Gilchrist seems to have left no stone unturned; I lived in Victoria for a number of years and there are a few spots here that I have never heard of. They are now on my list for my next trip. A visit to Victoria in winter is one of the finest getaways in Canada, and hotel rooms are ridiculously cheap in the off season. Thanks for the inspiration!
I was born in Victoria, went to UVic and ponder living there again some day. Until then, I love to visit because it’s such a walkable city (one of my favourite things to do when urban adventuring) and easily navigated by bicycle. I can’t wait to ride or walk the Galloping Goose Trail, followed by a pint and a nibble at Spinnakers (a classic) or one of the other spots mentioned here. Victoria is fast becoming a foodie destination. Yum!