Sponsored by Destination Greater Victoria
Drinking and dining in Victoria is an extraordinary experience like no other. The city’s coveted location – surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and fertile farmland– attracts top chefs and bartenders from around the world eager to play with the city’s bounty of hyper-local ingredients. A mecca for culinary fans, Victoria is home to hundreds of eateries, each producing distinctive, made-with-love fare. We asked two of the city’s hospitality superstars – Chef Takashi Ito, executive chef of AURA Waterfront Restaurant + Patio, and Brant Porter, head bartender at Veneto Kitchen + Bar – to share Victoria’s most extraordinary dining experiences. Plan your culinary adventure for winter, when the city’s festive spirit shines the brightest – below, you’ll find plenty of inspiration for must-try-now dining experiences.
Chef Takashi Ito // AURA Waterfront Dining + Patio
Chef Takashi Ito has a keen intuition for crafting extraordinary food. Helming the kitchen team at AURA Waterfront Restaurant + Patio at the picturesque Inn at Laurel Point, Chef Ito crafts delightfully surprising dining experiences that marry the Pacific Rim’s bounty of sustainable and seasonal ingredients with influences from his Japanese roots. During his decades-long career, he has represented Canada twice at the Winter Olympics for ice carving; is an active member of The Canadian Federation of Chefs and Cooks; and has amassed dozens of awards globally for his culinary acumen.
Though Chef Ito’s seasoned history has taken him around the world, he considers his hometown of Victoria one of the top culinary destinations he’s ever been, particularly for authentic Asian food (read more about Victoria cuisine here). With one of the largest restaurant seatings per capita in North America – second only to San Francisco – Victoria is jam-packed with palate-popping dining experiences, many with a distinctive Asian flair. Here, Chef narrows down the city’s cornucopia of must-try restaurants to his top five favorites – including AURA, which is currently undergoing a massive revamp and will unveil a brand-new look when it reopens in spring 2019.
(Image courtesy of AURA)
AURA “You won’t find the dishes at AURA anywhere else – I should know, I designed the menu myself! I take inspiration from dishes I have sampled around the world – including Seattle – and infuse them with Asian flavors while adhering to a strong locality and seasonality… and always with a twist. My favourite dish is the deep-fried sushi. Our entire menu changes with every season – including the new menu we will launch when AURA reopens in spring 2019 – except for the sushi. All the diners and servers say, ‘You cannot take this off the menu!’ It’s not traditional by any means with ingredients such as torched albacore tuna, dashi-poached side stripe shrimp, soy onion salad and togarashi mayo. It is truly extraordinary.”
Fishhook “I love Fishhook, which serves Indian- and French-influenced seafood. The Vin’daloo’d Seafood Hotpot is wonderful – the dish is packed with sockeye salmon, rockfish, mussels and squid, all dipped in full-flavor curry sauce. Just like in Seattle, the seafood in Victoria is very flavorful and fresh. You won’t be disappointed.”
Nubo Japanese Tapas “Nubo is only two years old, but I always go there now. The food is Japanese-Korean tapas, inspired by Izakaya dining, and very modern and beautifully presented. My favorite dish is the Bulgogi, which is soy-marinated beef donburi.”
E:Né “Excellent small plates here, also. E:Né is a sake lounge – in fact, they have the biggest collection of sake in all of Canada – and while I prefer wine, sipping sake brings back warm memories of my life in Japan. The lounge is owned by the same people who own Nubo – really wonderful people.”
Kid Sister Ice Cream “Ice cream is always a nice way to end a meal! Everything that goes into Kid Sister’s ice cream is locally sourced, which of course is very important to me. The salted caramel and London Fog flavors are both delicious, though my wife loves chocolate mint the most.
Brant Porter // Veneto Kitchen + Bar
Brant Porter caught the hospitality bug early. When he was young, he worked at two Thai restaurants owned by his family in Victoria, where he quickly realized that serving great food to happy diners was the perfect way to fund his budding music career. One evening, Brant watched the bartender craft a cocktail comprised of electric-hued spirits and was immediately fascinated by the strange alchemy that transformed several swirling liquids into one of the most delicious drinks he had ever tasted. The day after his 19th birthday, he took his first bar shift – and the rest is history.
Currently, Brant heads the bar program at Veneto Kitchen + Bar, a stylish eatery in downtown Victoria that dishes up elevated cocktails and a steak-focused menu. It’s here that Brant is able to live out his dream of curating a memorable, one-of-a-kind drinking experience that leaves patrons happier than when they arrived. Below, Brant shares five extraordinary venues in Victoria that promise a transformative experience for guests.
Veneto Kitchen + Bar “The cocktails at Veneto are unique and delicious, though there’s also an impressive draught list that rotates constantly. Those who prefer wine will love our selection of local and international wines, most of which are organic. Our most popular drink is the Hotel Rialto – which I created in 2014, when I was working at my second pick, Little Jumbo – combining Tanqueray Rangpur gin, orgeat (a lightly floral almond syrup), Herbsaint, egg white, lemon, mint and cucumber ice cubes. Of course, requests for classic or custom cocktails are always appreciated and admired.”
(Image courtesy of Veneto Kitchen + Bar)
Little Jumbo “The bar program here is adventurous yet approachable, and refreshed every six to eight weeks. Since the drinks change so frequently, it’s hard to narrow my favorite down to one. However, the Shelter Point Break is amazing – it incorporates locally made Shelter Point single malt whisky and Shelter Point Sunshine Liqueur, Lillet Blanc, Aloe Vera and orange. That said, this is the perfect bar to opt for Bartender’s Choice – though be warned, if you ask Bar Manager Avi Kunen to ‘make me anything’, you might end up with a Pina Colada.”
The Sherwood “This place is relatively new, but a soon-to-be timeless institution. Visitors can enjoy an elevated coffee experience in the morning, low-proof cocktails at lunch, and beautiful wine on the patio in the evening. My favorite drink here is the Bin ‘n Gitters, a modern classic created by the late and great Sasha Petraske of Milk & Honey in New York. That said, a nice Spritz on the patio during sunset is also something special.”
The Drake Eatery “The Drake is the holy grail for craft beer in Victoria. They get beer most other places can’t, because they’ve established relationships with breweries from all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond.”
Cenote Restaurant & Lounge “Cenote’s motto is “Sink to our level”, which I love. The joint was opened by an eclectic group of folks who came together after years of academia, and created a community-focused place where everyone feels at home. It’s a very authentic Victoria experience: you can play Scrabble in the corner or sit at the bar and drink delicious cocktails, and there’s even a coffee shop attached. Also, this is where you’ll find the best Pimm’s Cup in the whole damn world.”
Inspired to book a truly extraordinary culinary holiday in Victoria this winter? Visit www.tourismvictoria.com/extraordinary and select from a range of accommodation options – from family-owned B&Bs and historic inns to luxurious boutique hotels – to build your Victoria vacation.
(Image courtesy of Destination Greater Victoria)