1164 Stellys Cross Rd.
4 1/2 stars
Closed Sunday and Monday
Tuesday - Saturday, 7:30 a.m.- 4 p.m.; Thursday - Saturday, 5:30-8:30 p.m.
Visa, Mastercard and debit accepted. Partial wheelchair access.
I think Ill just get this out of the way. I apologize to residents of Central Saanich. Its going to become even more difficult to secure a table for dinner at the local spot you favour not that this is easy now, as Lizz and I discovered when we dropped by Zanzibar on a recent evening without a reservation.
After a few awkward moments, owner Toni Brassard sorted out a table for us, which didnt surprise me unduly. Brassard and husband Mohamed Dehairi are experienced operators and local favourites, having run Quattro Stagione down the road for a number of years before closing the doors toÂ move a short distance north to the premises that once housed Carden Street West.
The room itself appears the same, which is to say rustic and perhaps a little chilly at this time of year, especially if you need to use the restroom, an action that still requires that you exit the restaurant and re-enter another part of the building. However, any inclemency is quickly tempered by the warm atmosphere.
Chef Dehairis team satisfies diners five days a week, with early risers enjoying everything from freshly baked cinnamon buns to a full English breakfast, while lunch may include crisp greens topped with tandoori spiced chicken and fresh mango, or a lamb burger slathered with minted mayonnaise and apricot relish.
The evening menu similarly illustrates Dehairis varied culinary interests and follows the current trend of devotion to local ingredients that we perhaps take for granted on southern Vancouver Island. The list is short, yet comprehensive and, best of all, priced in a manner that suggests someone sat down and thought about numbers instead of simply charging what they thought they could get away with.
Soup du jour is $5, enough for any vegetarian soup and a pleasant change in a town where menus of similar calibre regularly charge in excess of $10 for a scraping of liquid on a soup plate too shallow to either remain warm or be eaten without having to tilt your bowl in a manner that would have someone smacking your hands if you grew up in my house.
In fact, $10 is the top price for a starter here, including mussels steamed with white wine, cream and garlic, and ravioli filled with goat cheese, squash and pine nuts. Given the weather that night, these dishes might have been logical choices for appetizers, but we decided to share a trio of enormous pan-seared scallops surrounding a timbale of fennel dressed with sauce remoulade, and a judiciously dressed salad of baby spinach, roast beets and pecans, with additional nuttiness courtesy of a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Simply spectacular.
If you crave Indian food, you wont go wrong here with the lamb biryani. Though neither of us chose it for an entrÃ©e, a nearby diner did, and aromas dont lie, so it will probably be the next thing I eat for dinner here. Either that or the Asian-influenced duck confit, flavoured with fresh herbs and limes, and served with fried noodles; or maybe salmon with a sauce crafted from vermouth, cream, juniper berries and green olives.
In the end, the ceaseless rain influenced my thinking, so braised beef short ribs ($18) swathed in rich sauce and falling off the bone, served with a mound of mashed potatoes and a vibrant selection of seasonal vegetables, won the day. Lizz worked her way through an ample seafood tagine ($22) replete with salmon, snapper, prawns and clams in a rich tomato broth that was perhaps more European in flavour than the Maghreb description given on the menu not a huge issue, since both could be described as Mediterranean.
We could have eaten dessert perhaps not the cheesecake or crème brulÃ©e on offer, but pomegranate sorbet was given serious consideration. In the end we decided we were satisfied with what we had eaten and thought maybe on our next visit, we would do a main course and dessert instead. Then again, a verdant patio awaits warmer weather when a few hours and three courses wouldnt be out of the question.
We will return. Food was superb, and it is refreshing to see a menu that allows quality ingredients to shine, without having to overstate everything and garnish things to death. Prices are very fair, including the well-chosen wine list. Service was friendly, though its fair to say it struggled a little at times, so reservations should be encouraged to allow Brassard to ensure she has enough hands available.
© Copyright 2013