The Palms

Launching a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic may seem counterintuitive, but don’t tell that to Rob Ekstrom and Darren Cole – the two Victoria-born pals who’ve just realized a shared dream of creating something of their own after 35 years of friendship. The Palms, a re-imagined restaurant and lounge in what was formerly the Veneto space in the Rialto Hotel, opens its doors to the public this week with a menu that will help keep local farmers busy and a revolving cocktail list that will change as the artwork does.

Art is a key feature of the new space. Cole and Ekstrom have forged a relationship with Rio, a French-Canadian artist from Montreal known as a bit of a phenom. Rio’s large paintings are installed throughout the restaurant, helping take it from, as Cole described it, “An old, classic dining room into a 2020 Las Vegas style place you want to come to on a date night.”

Cole doesn’t mind what label you give the interior design – call it Miami Vice, if you like. What’s important to him is that the space provides an ambiance that encourages comfortability, energy and a modern edge. Rio’s work certainly does that. The large-format paintings are mixed media, a kind of street art created with what looks like freehand spray paint, graphic design tools and collage, incorporating different materials like crushed crystals and newsprint into the works. He’s had exhibitions in Paris, found buyers in L.A. and Beverly Hills, and has a big studio space in Montreal where art collectors from around the world fight to purchase his work – often before it’s completed. It’s all very bohemian.

The cocktails are being designed by Bar Manager, Meghan Cheney, and are named after the paintings on the walls; they will change as the pieces are purchased and new ones appear. A personal favourite is Crazy in Love, a refreshing mix of gin, Campari, Aperol and pineapple juice shaken on ice with a prosecco float, fresh pineapple and mint.

Ekstrom and Cole have brought in Kyle Dampsy as chef, another Victoria-born team member to help build connections with local suppliers and farmers. Trained at Camosun College, Dampsy left Victoria and worked at some of the top restaurants in the region over the next 15 years, including the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, as well as Blue Water Café and Hawksworth in Vancouver, before dipping down to Costa Rica to clear his head and put together a restaurant on the Nicoya Peninsula – where the ingredients all came from very local suppliers. Building on his experiences, Dampsy has developed a menu using entirely regional ingredients from small farms and suppliers. It’s light and fresh, with tasty happy hour plates such as A Celebration of Local Tomatoes, Tuna Poke, and Flash Fried Calamari (very tasty).



The Palms opens at 3 pm for Happy Hour (until 5:30 pm) Wednesday to Sunday, followed by dinner until 9 pm, after which it’s a late-night menu until midnight. They’re also doing Sunday brunch from 10 am to 2 pm. With, of course, all COVID protocols in place.

Photography by Amish Jain

Courtesy of The Palms

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