When I pulled into Sooke, BC, toward the end of my day long road trip around Vancouver Island, I knew I was in for something special. Down the hill from the main road through the town and perched just above the Strait of Juan de Fuca is the Sooke Harbour House. This award winning restaurant and hotel has long been on my bucket list, and when I knew I was going to be in British Columbia this past April, I arranged my plans around dining here, going so far as to make a reservation four months in advance.
I arrived a bit early for my reservation so I could wander around their picturesque property. After living through a winter unlike any before, it took some head shaking to realize I was standing in a fully in bloom garden in April.
For as long as I have had the traveling bug, I’ve wanted to have a meal at this restaurant, renowned for their use of local ingredients, including from their own extensive gardens. They have a number of garden plots like this with micro greens, herbs, edible flowers and miniature vegetables scattered around the property.
Having explored the grounds, it was time for dinner. The menu here is created anew each day based on what is looking the best in the garden and what came in from the day’s catch. As I read over the menu, coming to terms with the very difficult decisions I would have to make, I enjoyed this glass of Venturi Schulze 2012 Millefiore from the nearby Cowichan Valley. It was lovely on its own and paired well with the dishes I ended up ordering.
Given this might be a once in a lifetime visit, I decided to go with the four course tasting menu. I had purposely only had a small snack at lunch so I could sample as much as possible here. For a first course, I ordered the salad, unable to resist trying what was literally growing right outside the door. A mix of micro greens and flower blossoms was served with a chervil and spearmint vinaigrette and toasted sunflower seeds. As a great first course should be, this was a wonderful scene setter for the meal.
Speaking of setting the scene, the food was in a tough competition with the view I had. With my late afternoon reservation, I got seated at what I think is the best table in the dining room. Looking slightly left out the window beside me, with the clouds parting, my evening featured this million dollar view out over the water and across the border to the Olympic Mountains in Washington State. Throughout the meal I found myself just staring at this scene, lost in my thoughts.
For my second course, I had a difficult selection to make. Although the tuna belly tartar on the menu sounded very tempting, I went with a dish featuring Cortes Island Manilla clams and mussels with steamed leeks, potato, thyme shrimp broth and arugula. Who knows how the tuna would have been, but I was thrilled with my decision for this course. This was one of the best seafood dishes I’ve ever had. I mean, look at how plump that mussel is. Also, I could have eaten a bucket of those little potatoes that had absorbed the fragrant broth. I didn’t want this dish to end.
I ordered another seafood dish for my main course. Rock sole (from Sidney, BC, about 50km away just north of Victoria) poached in a smoked oyster and dill cream (how I wish I could make sauces like this) with green lentil, cabbage, asparagus and sweet coltsfoot. As I was enjoying this, I realized I just don’t have the vocabulary to describe food this good. What I remember were the sounds of pleasure I was making in my head. It doesn’t always work out this way, but this bucket list visit was more than living up to expectations.
For my last course, I opted for the local cheese plate rather than a traditional dessert. Served along side some cranberries, tart green apple, ginger cookie crumbs, a chewy slice of fruitcake and grainy crackers were four cheeses from two Salt Spring Island cheese makers including a creamy goat’s milk cheese and an ash-ripened Camembert. My server for the evening poured a complimentary taste of a local dessert wine to pair with the Camembert – Brandenberg No. 3 2010 also from Venturi Schulze vineyards. I’d say this was the perfect end to the meal, but there was one more treat in store…
Served with the cheque were these mini custard filled pastries decorated with flowers from the garden. A perfectly flaky pastry with just a touch of salt wrapped around a vanilla cream, they made a wonderful last taste of a meal that could not have been more perfect. The food, wine, service, ambiance of the dining room and the natural setting through the window made this a perfect way to cap a day exploring Vancouver Island.