Passport to Pleasure: Six Letters Spell Sensuality in Victoria

vic_night_640_2161About a year ago, I reported about a culinary awakening in Victoria, Cowichan Valley, and Sooke. That was based on a summertime trip to Vancouver Island.

Planning a return to Victoria, I wondered: Would I find bliss in more wintery weather?

Snow, ice, rain, and cold weather couldn’t keep me from again enjoying my journey. With thanks to Kenmore Air and Victoria Clipper for fighting adverse weather, my partner and I had another great getaway with wonderful walks, spectacular food, and moments of relaxation. The secret of success seemed to always boil down to six letters. I’ll explain more as we go back to Victoria, where we stamp this week’s Passport to Pleasure—a hedonistic quest for great food and good times for two, from nibbles to naughtiness.

Six Letters: Spa Day

Our base was the Magnolia Hotel & Spa, a 64-room hotel conveniently located in walking distance of both Kenmore and the Clipper, as well as many of the major sites. This makes it easy to stop by your room to dry off or warm up in the midst of your outdoor activities, whether a horse-drawn carriage ride or a walk through Abkhazi Garden, “a garden that love built.”

The Magnolia is a good place for indoor relaxation, especially if you arrange one of their Date Night packages. If you “Declare a Spa Date,” your one-night stay will include a 30-minute Spa Magnolia couples massage, chocolate fondue for two in the spa lounge or your room, and deluxe continental breakfast when you wake up in the morning.

You can customize your spa experience and make it a longer stay if you’d like, as there’s a wide range of services available. You might want to take the opportunity to try a hot stone massage. You and your partner will relax side-by-side as your practitioners use heated basalt stones (incredibly smooth) from Vancouver Island’s shores to relax your minds and bodies. This treatment is especially beneficial for increased circulation, lymphatic drainage, and relief of tension.


Spa waiting room (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Hotel & Spa, Victoria, BC)


Hot stones for treatment


Guest room with a view (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Hotel & Spa, Victoria, BC)


Magnolia Hotel & Spa by night (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Hotel & Spa, Victoria, BC)

Six Letters: Lunch(e)s

Well, it’s not the word “lunch” that’s six letters, but the coincidence that so many of Victoria’s best lunch places contain exactly six letters. For example, last time around, I raved about Devour, which continues to be an excellent dining destination.

Fol Epi remains a remarkable favorite. The croissants are good (though they fall short of what you’ll find in Paris). Stunning are the albacore tuna sandwiches. (It’s on the right, with a wild sockeye and tomato sandwich on the left.) You’ll never want another tuna sandwich again, as the bread is delicious and the tuna chunks are spiked with a little wasabi:


PiCNiC is a fun little soup, sandwich, and salad stop close to the hotel. Fill out a tiny little form to order a freshly made sandwich, or pick from the day’s specials, which will also include a couple of soups and a salad or two. You’re free to sample the soups and to do combinations with half or whole portions. The food is delicious.


Many people stop in for a coffee (and, if early, a breakfast bite), but be sure to check out the other drinks. The house-made ginger ale is delightful, and the lavender lemonade has a huge following. And, yes, there are picnic tables (orange) outside.


Curried chicken with avocado on a baguette, along with chorizo, kale, and potato soup

picnic saladsand_600_1959

A perky salad that included red lentils and pomegranate seeds, along with a “chef’s choice” sandwich of Calabrese salami, oven-roasted turkey breast, mozzarella, tomato, avocado, mixed greens, roasted zucchini, goat cheese, and veggie spread

Eclectic is the best word to describe the menu at Relish Food and Coffee. Chef Jamie Cummins, formerly at Sooke Harbor House, is playful in the kitchen, making most everything in-house, from breads to bacon and granola to gnocchi. You’ll relish espresso and baked goods in the morning in the bright, open space with bold art on the walls.


Relish’s lunch offers soup, salads, and sandwiches, but you might also find ramen (house-made noodles, of course), banh mi, and tagliatelle on the colorful menu board which changes daily and is subject to squiggles as items inevitably sell out. Diverse ingredients like sauerkraut, kabocha squash, and ancho chiles are likely to appear on your dishes. Be sure to check the side dishes, visible through the showcase. (Visit Relish’s Facebook page for a current photo of the colorful chalkboard displaying the daily menu.)


A bowl of albacore tuna balls with bok choy, fingerling potatoes, and a poached egg in kimchi broth


Banh mi with pork belly, house pork terrine, pickles, cilantro, and kimchi cucumber


This beet (including the greens) and poached pear salad is terrific


The day’s menu

Six Letters: Sip (of) Tea

There’s something romantic about strolling through Victoria’s Chinatown, the oldest in Canada. Take photos of your partner in Fan Tan Alley, which will offer some interesting backdrops. As in any Chinatown, the little markets are fun, as you and your companion can discover foods that may be completely new to you. There are some more modern stores to explore; the food lover in you will enjoy Nood, which describes its kitchenware, furniture, and more as “new objects of desire.”

While in Chinatown, enjoy some alternatives to Afternoon Tea. Silk Road (like The Fairmont Empress, discussed in the last Victoria report) is in the area, but for something different, how about two contrasting experiences right across from each other? At Venus Sophia, you can sit in the quaint tea room and have some vegetarian snacks:


Or, across the street, visit Fan Tan Café for bubble tea and some far-from-vegetarian bites:


Six Letters: Skinny(Tato)

Okay, so “Skinny” is just the first part of the restaurant name. The full name is Skinnytato Polish Restaurant, and Katherina Koper and her crew cook the meat and potatoes of her homeland, including latkes (potato pancakes), which one of her children called a “skinny tato.” The small ones are tasty:


The name sounds funny, but this is a special restaurant that’s a relatively hidden gem in Victoria. While host/owners Greg and Katherina Koper will make you feel like you’re in their home, the setting of this small restaurant with its red walls is actually romantic in its old world charm, especially after dark:


The food is fun for a change of pace, and you can get Polish beer to pair with it. Here is an extra-large potato pancake stuffed with goulash (there are other choices), which comes with four small salads, one of which is now called “skinnytato” (made with shredded cabbage, carrots, apples, and onion):


Another option is a combination plate with a variety of pierogies, cabbage rolls, and a Polish sausage:


Six Letters: Oak Bay

Oak Bay is one of the most interesting (and oldest) neighborhoods of Victoria. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can walk from the hotel, but it’s easily accessible by bus if you don’t have a car. Once there, you’ll want to take a walk to the marina, where you’ll enjoy scenic views of the Pacific Ocean, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and perhaps Mount Baker in the distance.


In Oak Bay Village, you can visit many boutiques, art galleries, and bookstores. To whet your appetite, you might want to stop at Ottavio Italian Bakery & Deli to sample some of the delicacies.

But unless you’re spending a full day in Oak Bay, don’t fill up, because you’re having dinner at one of the best restaurants in Victoria: Vis-à-Vis Wine & Charcuterie Bar. Vis-à-Vis (that’s almost six letters) is a cozy spot that serves spectacular food. Your server will provide thoughtful recommendations of wine to pair with each course. You can even get one-inch pours if you’re pacing yourself to sample as a large number of the many BC wines available.

The menu is divided into sections that include “hot,” “cold,” “fondue,” and “finger food.” Flavor combinations are fascinating (for example, seared scallop with salted licorice glaze) and the wide variety of offerings is tempting. In a word, the food is delicious, and you’ll find this a fascinating and romantic place for your first or final food adventure in Victoria. Some of the dishes:


Organic Cimmaron romaine with lamb bacon, croutons, crème fraiche, and garlic scape dressing


Hot-smoked trout with rosemary crème fraiche, crispy sea lettuce, and trout roe


Tempura lollipop duck wing with persimmon & habanero sauce


Smoked bacon custard brulee with roasted squash, baby kale, orange, crispy ham, and pumpkin seed praline (perhaps the most memorable dish I ate in Victoria!)


Grilled octopus with squid ink fettucine, salsa verde, and chorizo


Smoked sablefish confit with caraway choucroute, 67-degree egg yolk, pomme puree, and lemon confit


A little taste of bison heart from the charcuterie menu, along with an even smaller taste of deliciously stinky Langres cheese from France


Churros with maple bacon sugar and white chocolate apple sauce, perfectly paired with Lustau East Indian Solera sherry

Six-Letter Conclusion about Victoria: Superb!