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Canada: Victoria Food Tour

Canada: Victoria Food Tour
Victoria, a city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, feels like the last city on the edge of the world. If you set sail directly west, the next bit of land you’ll get to is in the East. This sleepy, distant outpost of the old British Empire has reinvented itself from a Hudson’s Bay trading post in to a vibrant foodie city. Cat Hughes reports
 
Victoria is abundant with fresh, locally-grown food and the Pacific Ocean provides a source of sustainably caught seafood. Vancouver Island is the size of England, and with a population of less than one million, there is plenty of room to grow delicious food.
 
Victoria prides itself on not just its food, but on its craft beer. The city has a disproportionate number of microbreweries for its size. The best way to sample them is by going on what is affectionately called by locals an 'ale trail', essentially an old-fashioned pub-crawl. There are two ways in which to do this; you can either walk - most of the breweries are in downtown core - or you can take the water taxis, which stop close to or directly outside the pubs.
The one I recommend is Philips, one of the more popular ones and for good reason (so I am told - I don’t actually like beer but my partner is becoming a bit of a connoisseur).
 
After Philips, head to Driftwood – the brewer of the boyfriend’s favourite beer Fat Tug. Then head to Canoe, which was my favourite. This brewpub has a large harbour-side beer garden, a good wine selection, a great local cider, called Merridale and of course handcrafted beer.  This is one for the non-beer drinker. If you still think you can sample more beer, just up the street is Swans Hotel, another brewpub, however, this establishment would look more at home in Torquay than in Canada.
 
We were only in Victoria for the weekend, so to experience the best food the city had to offer, we went on a culinary tour of the genteel neighbourhood, Oak Bay. The community is situated on the Pacific Ocean and looks a little bit like a posh English seaside town.
 
We met up with our guide, Karma Brophy, a Vancouver Islander, born and bred. She took us through a maze of streets that resembled more of an English country village than a west coast town.
 
Our first stop was Whole Beast Artisan Salumeria – an award-winning cured meat deli. The store is owned by Cory Pelan, but as it was a Sunday, he was taking a well deserved day off, while his assistant took us through the array of delicious meats. Nick, the assistant, was incredibly passionate about his work - so much so he moved from Ottawa, just under 3000 miles away, to take up a job with Pelan.
 
The second stop was the Penny Farthing Pub, which is a typical English pub. They have their own beer, which is brewed by Philips especially for them: I had a half-pint and surprisingly really liked it. Next door to the pub is the wine and charcuterie bar, Vis-à-vis. It has a good selection of B.C. and international wine. We sampled Sandhill, a B.C. wine with a duck slider; duck is a rare dish on a menu in B.C. so it was quite a treat.
 
All the while, Brophy is telling us all about the local area and the story behind the food. Whilst on the way to our next stop the Oak Bay Marina Restaurant, we walked along the ocean front, which looks over some small pristine uninhabited islands that are part of a first nation reservation, and hovering in the hazy distance are the Olympic mountains in Washington state.
 
When we arrived at the restaurant, they are running a little behind, so we head down to the marina, where there are some wild seals hoping for tidbits. A particularly fat seal starts to follow us as we walk along the jetty, but after he realised we had no food, he swam off toward a family who looked more promising.
 
Back at the restaurant we sampled some mussels and Unsworth Allegro wine. The mussels were large compared to what you would normally see in Europe, but it was equally scrumptious.
 
The final stop of the tour is at the newly rebuilt Oak Bay Beach Hotel, a five star establishment with excellent local food.  Here we had a spirit tasting paired with four desserts. By this time I was feeling full and somewhat tipsy – but there is always room for dessert.
 
After the tasting, if you can stomach more food and alcohol, I recommend going into the Sung, which is part of the hotel. The Sung was Oak bay’s first neighbourhood bar, and was rebuilt by the hotel. Try the heather beer (heather is used instead of hops), the chicken wings or the seafood chowder. If you can sit on the deck, that over looks the ocean, You never know if you are really lucky you may even see some killer whales or seals out in the distance.
 
 
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15 July 2013
By: Cat Hughes
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