Fed Up with Julie

photo: High Tea at the Hotel Grand Pacific

With fewer and fewer visits “across the pond”, I was beginning to lose touch with the wining and dining scene in the city that spawned the magazine. So with laptop, overnight bag and a 5am coffee firmly in hand, I aim for the first ferry on a rainy Friday morning to mix a little business with pleasure.

I am billeted at the handsome Hotel Grand Pacific, steps from the Black Ball Ferry Line and overlooking the inner harbour.  From my comfy room I watch seaplanes buzz in and out like large mosquitoes and the Coho pull out of dock heading toward Port Angeles. And would you look at that! Complimentary high-speed internet. (I balk at the $15 daily rate that so many top-hotels charge). Tucked into my GP logo-ed terry robe I hunker down to write, leaving the room only to pad to the pool and to meet a colleague for afternoon tea. Grand Pacific’s High Tea with a difference—not a cucumber and cress on white in sight. Earthy black teas (Pu-Her was that day’s feature), or fragrant white and green teas are served in a French Press. A four-tier tray is piled high with savoury and sweet. There is bannock, and cheese scones, tiny pots of local preserves and chantilly cream, tea-cured salmon on brioche, free range egg salad on mini-croissants, puffy pastry filled with David Woods goat cheese and roasted tomato, skewered spot prawns, Cowichan Bay duck confit on a lattice-work pastry, custardy citrus squares, fruit laden chocolate “shells” and mini-cinnamon rolls. Impossible to do it all justice, our gracious server boxes carefully the remaining morsels for me to cart away, maybe, for later nibbles.

My husband rolls into town early evening (He is grateful for my packed up “tea”.) A late dinner in the Mark parallels the afternoon’s treats. Chef Mark Minshull pays marvelous heed to a perfectly poached free-range egg atop winter greens, Cowichan Duck breast with molasses butter, and a superb spot-prawn pot-au-feu with baby vegetables. Service is impeccable, without being gushy.

Early Saturday morning I whip out to Canada’s own Lee Valley Tools in Colwood to fetch my tickets for three March workshops (now sold out) not available at the Vancouver’s store. There are more ways to connect with food than firing it down your gullet—like making and planting stuff. I pity the instructor who will teach me to “turn” a wooden (salad?) bowl and pepper mill during two woodworking seminars. (I take small comfort in knowing that my woodworking could be no worse than my sewing). Whoever is leading the Heritage seed workshop will have a far easier time of it.

En return route to town I wheel in to the Root Cellar for buttery fingerling spuds, the curliest, most tender endive, pencil-thin bunched carrots, but really, just to be amidst the Saturday morning jostle. An Illy Americano and decadent pastry at La Collina adjacent to the market, warms the fingers, clears the head and goes right for the hips.

La Piola, at lunch passes for a village osteria one might stumble on in Italy, where the greeting is friendly, the tables are covered in oilcloth, cutlery is simple and the place is a chatterbox. And where a salad of fresh fixings, a plate of simply sauced home-made noodles, or maybe a Margherita pizza, and a glass of house red sets you up for a walk—and a nap.

Late afternoon Steve and I root around Russell’s for books. (I come away laden with a book devoted to growing micro-greens, The Potting Shed Papers and The Bishop’s Garden, a handsome tome packed with seventeenth century botanical drawings). We thumb through our literature over a pint of Driftwood Ale at Bard and Banker Scottish Public House.

Stage is everything we look for in a bistro when we are out of town—an intimate space bursting with local folk, offering tasty local fare, a small, well-chosen, well-priced wine list itemized on a blackboard. (Any time I can sip on Altesino Rosso for five bucks, generous taster, has my vote). We love our grainy housemade sausage, crisp falafel with a julienned “Greek” salad and the garlicky parsleyed wild mushrooms on rustic toast.

While the Canucks trounce Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, the curtain comes down on the day with a nightcap (my perfect Woodford Manhattan is, well, perfect, and surprisingly affordable) from our wingback chairs in the hotel lounge.

Work is accomplished. We have been well fed and are well rested. A brisk walk along the waterfront brings us back to the hotel early afternoon nosh of Dim Sum (and then some) in the Pacific Restaurant. While Steve goes for a shellfish stew, I opt for sautéed tender Asian greens, steamed buns stuffed with edamame and Cowichan Bay chicken, and spinach globes wrapped tightly a crab/spot prawn mixture. It’s a tasty end to a brief our brief sojourn.

If you go:

Hotel Grand Pacific, the Mark and Pacific Restaurant

463 Belleville St.

250-386-0450

Lee Valley Tools

314 Wale Rd.

250-391-9553

The Root Cellar

1286 McKenzie Ave.

250-477-9495

La Collina

1286 McKenzie Ave.

250-477-1663

La Piola

3189 Quadra Street

Victoria, BC V8X 1E9, Canada

(250) 388-4557

Russell Books

734 Fort Street

Victoria, BC V8W 2P5, Canada

(250) 361-4447

Bard and Banker

1022 Government Street

Victoria, BC V8W, Canada

(250) 953-9993

Stage

1307 Gladstone Avenue

Victoria, BC V8R 1R9, Canada

(250) 388-4222

Written By:

Gary Hynes, a writer and photographer, founded EAT magazine in 1998 and is its editor and chief paperboy. He studied Electronic Music with Samuel Dolan at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, Audio Recording Technology at ...

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