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Alexandra Gill: Victoria offers a range of thrills for the palate

Victoria is the seat of our provincial government and the hottest spot to lunch. The capital city hasn't experienced much innovation in its evening dining scene, but sometimes you have to know where your strength lies. I wish Vancouver had a midday scene as vibrant as this.

Olive the Senses

1701 Douglas St.,Victoria; 250-882-4210.

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Have you ever tasted olive oil? I mean a serious tasting, similar to the way one would approach fine wine – by cradling a few viscous drops in a bulbous glass to use the heat of your hand to release its grassy aromas.

I like to think I have a well-travelled palate. But before happening upon this ultra-niche shop in the historic Hudson building – which will undoubtedly get much busier after Victoria's first year-round indoor market launches next door this spring – I didn't even realize that olive oil had a certified tasting glass. It's cobalt blue (not to evoke memories of Mexico, which it inevitably does), but to mask the oil's various greenish hues. Did you, like me, always think that dark green olive oil (the cloudier the better) was somehow healthier or tastier than the pale grocery store variety? Surprise! It's not.

I learned so much during a 30-minute tasting with owner Emily Lycopolus I don't know where to begin. Did you know that olives have their own varietals? Koroneiki, frantoio and leccino, for example, all have their own characteristics, akin to grenache, merlot and syrah, no matter where they're grown.

I have always suspected that olive oil gets rancid, not better, with age. And it's true. Olive oils should be consumed eight months after harvest. Here at Olive the Senses, the olive oils are offered seasonally from their properly ripened hemispheres (California and the Mediterranean in our winter; Australia and South America in the summer.)

The oils and vinegars are all brought in by bulk, from a reputable distributor in California (Veronica Foods, which supplies numerous gourmet Canadian grocers from Halifax to Vancouver). They're presented in beautiful 15-litre stainless steel containers, called fustis. Customers are more than welcome to wander the room with plastic spoons and taste from the spigot of every infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I suggest you start with the single-varietal olive oils. The peppery throat cough that sneaks up on you about 45 seconds after tasting (three coughs equals excellence) is a singular experience.

Jam Cafe

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542 Herald St., Victoria; 778-440-4489.

Victoria is well known for its excellent lunch spots. But who doesn't love an all-day breakfast? At this funky café in old town Victoria, the laid-back servers sing along to the '70s tunes and don't blink an eye when dropping a massive Charlie Bowl on the table – a shredded potato hash with crumbled biscuits, two sunny side up eggs, ham, green onions, cheddar cheese and house-made sausage gravy. I thought it could have used more gravy. But my dad made the ultimate call. After eating pretty much non-stop with me for 10 days, this was the only dish that really made him say "Wow! Can we take the leftovers home?"

Snug Pub

1175 Beach Dr., Oak Bay, B.C.; 250-598-4556.

The original Grand Dame may have withered, but the new Oak Bay Beach Hotel has brought this swanky suburban hot spot back to life. Iain Rennie, the resort's new executive chef, has a full plate, what with the dining room, Kate's Café, room service and the David Foster Foundation Theatre on his hands. The perpetually popular Snug Pub was his first order of business. Cilantro cream lamb curry and a classic burger piled high with tempura onion rings won't steer him wrong.

Chorizo & Co.

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807 Fort St., Victoria; 250-590-6393.

Another great lunch place. Victoria is certainly a government town. This tasty Spanish delicatessen serves delectable sandwiches made with chewy, spicy chorizo from an old family recipe. They're open Friday nights (with Flamenco dancers), but I went for lunch.

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About the Author
Vancouver restaurant critic

Alexandra Gill has been The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver restaurant critic since 2005. She joined the paper as a summer intern in 1997 and was hired full-time as an entertainment columnist the following year. In 2001, she moved to Vancouver as the Western Arts Correspondent, a position she held until 2007. More


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