Going to Victoria this weekend from Seattle, with my wife's parents from Trenton/Princeton, NJ. We will have two, possibly three dinners, two breakfast/brunch and/or lunches (depending on timing and portion size), plus an afternoon for tea and/or beer/pub food/small plates. Would probably avoid Italian, pizza or Indian food unless it is truly exceptional given the availability in central NJ.
Zambri's (Italian, lunch or dinner)
Red Fish Blue Fish (fish and chips)
Empress Room OR White Heather (afternoon tea)
Jade Fountain in Red Lion hotel (dim sum)
L'ecole Brasserie (french bistro, lunch or dinner)
Cafe Brio (Medd., lunch or dinner)
Stage Wine Bar (small plates, wine, etc.)
Ferris Oyster Bar (beer, bivalves)
Spinnaker's (pub food)
Niche (NW/organic, brunch or dinner)
Willie's Bakery (breakfast, pastries)
Please comment and make any suggestions if I have overlooked something important.
I know you didn't mention it at all in your original post but if you need coffee at any point, check out Habit (just west of Government on Pandora), 2% Jazz (just north of Kings on Douglas) or Discovery (on Discovery just west of Douglas). All are a significant cut above your average shop.
Zambri's--Very good choice. The pasta dishes are excellent (i.e. very good duck ragu). The food is prepared properly. The produce is primarily local. The prices are fair. The service is good. The only drawback is the no reservation policy. And the stripmall surroundings. However, the restaurant is downtown...easy to get to.
Red Fish Blue Fish--Great choice. Not only good fish and chips, also excellent sandwiches featuring tuna, scallops, oysters, etc...Good chips, too! Expect long line-ups at lunch, though. Plus, it is outdoor eating only, so it is sort of weather-dependent.
White Heather offers a much better deal than the Empress for afternoon tea.
I'd skip dim sum. You can do much better in Seattle.
Brasserie L'Ecole--Best overall restaurant in Victoria IMO, if you factor in value. You will absolutely need a reservation. Probably at this point you are looking at a 9 pm seating for Friday or Saturday dinner. My favourite: their NY striploin (10 oz) served with red wine/shallot reduction and pat of roquefort butter, along with frites (which can also be tossed with garlic, parsley, parmesan, and truffle oil at your request). The sour cherry chocolate tart is fantastic. Great starters, too. And don't ignore the wine policy--you can order from any bottle on their list (sparling wines excluded) if you order a minimum of two glasses.
Cafe Brio--So-so, IMO. Good wine list, good wine service, but the food is not consistent.
Stage Wine Bar--Only been there once. It is a fun place. Good for sharing. It is a young restaurant, and some of the service kinks are still being ironed out, but not a bad choice at all. Will fulfill the 'small plates' requirement for your trip (might be nice for an afternoon snack).
Ferris Oyster Bar--Not bad for comfort food. Decent burgers and sandwiches. Friendly atmosphere. Reasonably priced. A good choice for your pub meal, even though it is not a pub.
Spinnakers--good beer, but the food is and has always been a let-down. I have eaten there countless times over the years (it is a short walk from my house) and am almost always disappointed in the food. Nice place for a beer.
Niche--Great reputation thus far. I have not eaten there yet. Supposed to have more modern food than many places in stuffy ole Victoria.
Willie's Bakery--Decent coffee; okay baked goods.
May I make a few suggestions?
1) Mo:Le for breakfast. Right downtown on Pandora Ave. This always busy breakfast joint has great egg dishes (their eggs benny and their Mo's Biscuit are my two favs). The fun thing to do is to get on their 'waitlist' to be seated, tell them you'll be next door drinking your morning coffees at Habit, and the server from Mo:Le will come to get you when your table is ready. A local tradition!
2) May I second the recommendation for Paprika as a dinner option? This Oak Bay area restaurant has excellent food with a real emphasis on local produce. In fact, the owners grow much of the produce they serve in their own garden! I had a flawless birthday dinner at Paprika earlier this year.
3) There are some good French places in Victoria, such as Matisse and Chez Michel, but Brasserie L'ecole is the most consistent IMO.
4) There are a few 'hole-in-the-wall' places for lunch that are fun and reasonably priced. 'Pig' has good sandwiches (pulled pork, brisket, smoked chicken) and good sides (good slaw, BBQ beans, cornbread, kosher pickles).
'Choux-Choux' Charcuterie has great lunch specials. Usually they have a soup, a good sandwich (grilled), a nice charcuterie plate, and a plats du jour, which might be something like duck confit served with seasonal vegetables. Lunch only. Very consistent and featuring only top-notch ingredients.
the Moss Street Market, Saturdays from 10 AM to 2 PM, has WONDERFUL fresh local fruit and veggies, light lunch options, and in general is a festive atmosphere. Most of the good produce sells by 10:30 AM, so get there early if you want the blueberries, strawberries, or other organic local produce!
Good luck. Looking forward to your report.
Our first meal, which proved to be the best overall, was dinner at Niche. A remarkable value for a three course tasting menu at $40. Beautiful interior space in a old house with a large fireplace at the center of the dining room. For the first course we selected mussels cooked in local ale, veal with basil and white lace, and pasta with mushrooms and bacon (these words are deceptively simple for what the dishes actually involved). The pasta was freshly made and dressed incredibly, rich but not cloying--best pasta dish of the year for me; the other starters were quite nice too. For second course the winner was a very rarely cooked beef medallion with a bone marrow crust served with beets-dope. The scallops with roasted fennel (and apple?) came together very well with a pleasing acidity. In my dish, the albacore was perfectly seared but the string beans it came with were undercooked by a bit. Chocolate pot au creme for dessert was silly good, served on a rock slab with a scattering of cocoa (and some carmelized nuts?) Wine pairings were tempting at $30 pp, but we went with an excellent bottle called A Noble Blend ,from Joie in BC, that carried no offensive mark up at $45. (I later found it at a liquor store in Oak Bay for $24 and brought one back). Niche is big on the local/organic focus, with a menu changing every day, even perhaps during the day, according to our server (which seems a little nutty to me). Again, an astounding value and fine experience at Niche IMO.
We went to Lady marmalade for breakfast the next day. It was a like a more luxurious yet healthy diner, with six kinds of eggs benedict and other plates interspersed with japanese and mexican flavors that were creative, if not elegant. I had the BLT which was certainly one of the better ones i've had, and my wife's eggs benedict with smoked salmon was superb. Seems to be friendly to the hipster/artist set; I like the painted refrigertors they have.
In the afternoon we took bicycles around the coast to Oak Bay. The concensus was afternoon tea, and White Heather was closed so we went to the Blethering Place. The tea spread is not my...thing (terrible duplicate pun avoided) so I went with beer and halibut n chips which were competent but not the best I've had. Still, my companions enjoyed the place and it had some anglophile charm.
L'ecole, Paprika and Zambri's were each closed on Sunday, so we went with Brio for dinner. I was not dissapointed. The place has a good jovial vibe with dark walls, random art, high ceilings and low light. The server reflected a confidence and pride in the reputation of the place (as did the person I reached when I called who proudly announced that Biro had been "best restaurant in Victoria for 11 years in a row"). We ate light. The housemade charcuterie was outstanding, most especially the mortadella with pistachios--so fresh! I wish I could have smuggled some back to the States. They offered a healthy glass of legit barbaresco at $9 which is a bargain IMO. My dish was seafood agnolotti with a red pepper and caper sauce that was somewhere between decent and good...too salty. My wife's halibut with eggplant cream was awesome, while the artic char her father had was not. The linguine was reportedly plain but I did not have it. We shared a dessert sampler of which the thyme-apricot sorbet was the most memorable but the creme brulee was very nice as well. A very good restaurant, just a step down from my experience from Niche.
The next morning we grabbed scones and tea at James Bay Tea Room, a charming place along the lines of Blethering (e.g. royal family trees in the waiting area) but with a less mrs. doubtfire feel. At lunch we were captive a Bouchart gardens and had a cafeteria style meal at Blue Poppy. What can I say? Seafood chowder surprisingly good; salad with Kraft dressing pak not so much.
Our last bite was at Ferris. An above average bar food spot. The generic oysters were a bit creamy, which I never like but apparently others do. I applied more condiment than I usually do with magnificent Pac NW specimens. Mega bowl of fries with mayonaise sampler were very satisfying; steamed mussels were "meh" to decent--hard dish to mess up IMO.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to my enjoyment of Victoria.
Thank you for the report.
We will have to try Niche when we are out there next month. Niche "lost out" to Stage during our last visit. We always hit the "old stand by's" like Brio, Brasserie L'Ecole, Zambri's" and the like so it often does not leave time, space nor money for new spots and Stage was it that trip.
Too bad you did not have the bread pudding at Brio. My wife still raves about it. Very different from what I have become accustomed to when bread pudding is on a menu but she sure enjoyed it...has two evenings set aside.
From the way you have described them it sounds like you may have been talking to Greg and Sylvia.
Glad you enjoyed yourselves. A month or more to go before we see the ocean again......
re: Bob Mac
It is a shame that the majority of Victoria's best restaurants are closed on Sunday. I don't quite that....Monday I can see, but Sunday?
Cafe Brio is spotty IMO; I have never had a meal that that did not have some flaws. Very friendly owners, though, and an excellent wine list.
Next time you are in town try out one of the city's excellent French restaurants: Brasserie L'Ecole, Restaurant Matisse, or Chez Michel on Oak Bay Ave. Paprika is also extremely good (but not French), but I recently read that its owners plan to sell soon. That's a real loss to our food scene.