Ken Hueston grew up with a penchant for bones. According to the Goldstream News Gazette, he began his formal education in pursuit of paleontology, but he soon found that although his instincts were correct, they were slightly misguided?his place was not among dusty and brittle dinosaurs, but in the steam of a kitchen. There, his commitment to local ingredients, handmade cuisine, and chef education would earn him the B.C. Chamber of Commerce's Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2008, a spot on enRoute's Best New Restaurant list, and a 2012 feature on Food Network Canada's You Gotta Eat Here.
Today at Smoken Bones Cookshack, after a brief absence, Ken is back as head chef, bringing with him a fresh dose of creativity and heeding the traditions of artisanal cooking, forming his menu's burgers, cheeses, and bacon by hand, without additives. Ken and his apprentices prepare everything on site, using scratch cooking techniques, including smoking food with local Vancouver island woods. Featured on You Gotta Eat Here, their pork and beef ribs, pulled pork, and beef brisket stake out the spotlight, though the Cookshack has not forgotten seafood, chicken, and stacked sandwiches. The emphasis on all-natural methods also extends past the cuisine and into the smoking process itself, which employs wood from Vancouver fruit and alder trees.
The forest figures heavily into the restaurant's decor too: in between praising the venue's bacon ice cream, Heed the Hedonist recounts "exposed ducts and exposed wood everywhere, including a plywood bar that was fashioned from a Douglas Fir that had blown down during a windstorm." Big-screen televisions augment the natural appeal, broadcasting sports on game nights, and live blues music twangs during special events.
Nautical Nellies Restaurant, celebrating its 17th anniversary in 2014, is no stranger to recognition. The eatery, which overlooks the city's inner harbour, has garnered multiple Open Table Diners' Choice awards in categories including Best Food, Best Seafood, and Best Overall. Fillets of wild Pacific halibut or Vancouver Island ling cod flake beneath forks, and shellfish, lobster, and Dungeness crab claws teeter on multi-tiered seafood towers. Diners can sample 10 varieties of oysters and rolls of fusion sushi. Grass-fed Angus steaks, aged for 35 days, are cooked to any specification, from well done to what chefs term ?blue?? seared on the outside, with a cool centre and a scrawled-on frowny face.
Thanks to the work of wine director Betty Furneaux, Nautical Nellies' beverage programs are just as thoughtfully designed as its dining menus. Wine Spectator honoured the eatery's wine list with an Award of Excellence in 2011, 2013, and 2014. Cocktails range from beachy mojitos to the savoury double-prawn caesar with vodka, Clamato juice, and two black tiger prawns. The restaurant also dedicates a section of the menu exclusively to scotch.
Abkhazi Garden is the "garden that love built"—Prince Nicholas Abkhazi, a Georgian prince from Russia, and his bride Peggy settled in Victoria in 1946 and promptly began construction on the garden that they would refer to as "their child." Likened by Princess Peggy to an unfurling Chinese scroll, the blossom-brimming garden's meandering paths lead visitors around natural rock outcroppings, between sky-stroking garry oaks, and through the hedges where gnomes power photosynthesis with their stationary bikes. Along the banks of the garden's three small ponds, the songs of dozens of bird species cascade over guests and the resident turtles. Views of the Juan de Fuca Strait and the Olympic Mountains peek through the gardens' perimeter amid azaleas and the Abkhazi's prized rhododendron woodland area. Inside the now-public main house, a restaurant—open from March to November—sends platters of eggs benedict, niçoise salad, and scones with jams and Devon cream to tables nestled in the great room, where cozy seats overlook the garden.
Flying Otter Grill traverses land, air, and sea. It takes its name from the Otter aircraft, much like the kind that take off from the two-storey airline terminal at the Victoria Harbour Water Aerodrome surrounding the eatery. The restaurant itself floats on a series of pontoons so that it rises and falls with the tides, its floor-to-ceiling windows treating every table to views of the ocean and choreographed seagull flash mobs. Spanning both earth and ocean, the menu of pub fare draws on fresh prawns alongside crab, salmon, and Angus steak, and Cajun spiced chicken wings. Planes land on nearby airstrips and yachts sail into the harbour on a regular basis, the bustle of transit contrasting with the calm, cabin-like setting of the restaurant, which features West Coast cedar furnishings and a crackling fireplace. Taking inspiration from its surroundings, the Flying Otter nets some of its fresh fish from local suppliers.
Since Villages Pizza’s launch in 1974, it has expanded to seven locations and an express pizza truck, all purveying the same wholesome pies. The pizzas are topped with fresh produce and lean cuts of meat, and they can start with a whole-wheat or gluten-free crust if desired. People with dietary restrictions can also find comfort in lactose-free cheese and lower-calorie flatbreads, although more classic ingredients comprise the bulk of the menu.
As a second-generation pizza maker, owner John Papaloukas is responsible for the eatery’s traditional Italian recipes, plus some new inventions with Mexican leanings. The pesto perfect pie is topped with roasted chicken breast, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and feta, and baked pasta dishes highlight the flavours of lean meatballs, marinara, and oven.