For six months, Isobel Drummond and her husband sojourned across France with their two teenage daughters, seeking out the country’s best cafés. The couple lingered over coffee and macarons in Paris, Bordeaux, St. Tropez, Marseille, and Nice. Now, at Simply French Cafe, they strive to capture the welcoming ambiance and gourmet foods they enjoyed in their favourite French eateries.
Simply French’s crystal chandeliers and Toulouse-Lautrec posters pop against dark wooden floors and exposed ceiling beams. Customers linger over paninis, tiramisu, and French-style pastries served on delicate pastel china. And in the evenings, a hands-on macaron-making class lets students create their own confections without the difficulty of growing meringues from seed.
Situated amid the vineyards of Cowichan Valley, Merridale Ciderworks Corp. breaks from grapey mores and concocts apple-based ciders, brandies, and spirits, following cider-making techniques practiced in England and France. Staff lasso trees and pick apples across the orchard, which mirrors the soil, climate, and alveolar trills of European cider regions. Visitors sip creations ranging from Calvados-style brandy to carbonated vodka made from fruit. The 20-acre apple farm incorporates a brick oven with baked goods, a deli that serves picnic lunches, a spa that performs body treatments, and a store that offers art and gourmet ingredients. Merridale Ciderworks Corp. also invites customers on self-guided tours to discover their cider-making process and favourite stunt cars. They host events such as weddings and complement drinks with hearty bistro fare crafted from local ingredients.
Bathed in candlelight and adorned with a rotating array of works by local artists, Blighty's Bistro entices gourmands with West Coast fusion cuisine from the lunch whistle until the dinner gong. Nosh on starters such as seafood chowder ($9) or snow crab-stuffed homemade ravioli ($12) before moving onto the pan-seared ribeye steak with red wine sauce ($26) or gourmet fish 'n' chips ($22), a plank of battered halibut stuffed with prawns, herbs, mushrooms, and cheese, and accompanied by a Caesar salad, home-cut fries, and its fryhood governess. A mushroom salad ($12) of greens mixed with enoki mushrooms, sauteed oysters and walnuts satiates herbivorous face holes. Midday meal-seekers can nibble on Thai seafood curry ($13) or an autumn salad ($10) bursting with beets, carrots, apple, pecan, radicchio and greens tossed in a honey and blue cheese dressing. Partner amiable eats and the dictation of your memoirs with a cosmopolitan ($8), or select from a large selection of cocktails, beer, wine, and liqueurs.
Even though the menu is influenced by eateries in the Old World, almost every other element of Tapenade Bistro is supremely local. Chef Colin Uyeda, who grew up in Steveston, got his first job in a kitchen at age 15 according to the Richmond Review. The reporter sampled locally caught seafood, going so far as to name the local fisherman behind octopus that's "succulently braised and served with in-house merguez sausage, harissa paste, a combination of pickled and fresh vegetables, and a citrus emulsion."
That's not the end of the regional influences though; there are Salt Spring Island mussels, cuts of Fraser Valley pork, and more, all of it made in compliance with Ocean Wise's guidelines for sustainability. Small producers from the region are well represented on the wine list, as well, and a special dinner series walks patrons through those offerings.
Eating at Starry Night Restaurant provides a hip alternative to dining out under the night sky. Purple panels overhead are speckled with glowing dots and recessed lights, which surround a chandelier bristling with refractive glass. Beneath the cool hues, waiters carry plates of deep-fried spring rolls and chargrilled ribeye over to purple booths that curve along the walls. Seated in the downstairs lounge, diners can nibble on pan-seared halibut or an appetizing lighting fixture as they listen to live music on select nights.
Weaving a tapestry of authentic subcontinental dishes, the chefs at Maurya Indian Cuisine incorporated ingredients from across India’s varied regions. The country’s street food vendors are represented by the toasted potato and pea-cake appetizers; Goa is represented by spicy chicken, lamb, or beef vindaloo; and the tastes of South India make an appearance in the coconut- and poppy seed–flavoured chettinad paste. The restaurant’s base sauce—a mix of five sauces— flavours hearty, shareable portions of lamb, chicken, fish, and goat. The bistro also keeps vegetarians sated with eats that include black lentils slow-cooked overnight and several styles of naan, including one that is equipped with WiFi.
Food arrives with a choice of ambiance. One is the well-lit dining room decked out with long drapes suspended from a high ceiling. The other is served on the eatery’s patio, complete with its own chef who tends to the outdoor tandoor oven. Whether indoors or out, the staff maintains a high standard of professionalism, earning an array of positive press mentions, including Dine Out Vancouver's Best Bite award for service in 2010.