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Relish eatery's locale as well as fine fare

PAM GRANT DINING OUT RELISH Address: 920 Pandora Ave., Victoria Tel: 250-590-8464 Hours: Open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Major credit cards and Interac accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Relish Food and Coffee at 920 Pandora Ave




Address: 920 Pandora Ave., Victoria

Tel: 250-590-8464

Hours: Open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Major credit cards and Interac accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Rating 4


Rating 1 Below bad

Rating 2 Below average

Rating 3 Average

Rating 4 Above average

Rating 5 Excellent

What is the formula for establishing a successful eatery in downtown Victoria's competitive market? Choose a location that most operators would run from, never open during the evening or on the weekend - and offer refreshingly understated food.

You might not think this would work, but it has, because in the heart of Harris Green, Relish is a noun, a verb and a thriving restaurant, albeit one with a sadly underutilized website. Fortunately, its Facebook page posts a picture of the ever-changing blackboard menu shortly before noon each day.

It took guts to open a restaurant in this neglected part of Victoria, where only a couple of years ago you would have been more likely to see a discarded syringe than a flower basket, but that's exactly what chef Jamie Cummins decided to do.

What initially seems a sparse room turns out to be a pleasant space with high ceilings and good light. Brick walls showcase efforts by local artists and the open kitchen perpetually hums.

Orders are placed at the counter but brought to your table. Be warned, however: Claim a table first if you're visiting at noon, as seating vanishes quickly.

Lunch encompasses a dozen or so rotating options in two categories. The first includes a seasonally inspired plat du jour (chicken confit with asparagus, leeks, bacon and Yukon gold potatoes), rice bowls, handmade ramen, pasta and risotto.

The second section, from which Lori and I made our selections during our visit early in the new year, offers soup, sandwiches and salads.

Though we were disappointed to find the roasted garlic soup already sold out, we loved a creamy sweet potato and smoked salmon salad, with slivers of scallion and bacon.

We also shared a salad of quinoa with pear and kiwi fruit, which, though inoffensive, as Lori noted, was nothing to get excited about.

In terms of sandwiches, smoked pork with apple slaw and aged cheddar was edged out by an excellent clubhouse with roasted chicken, crisp bacon and Brie.

We also shared juicy house-made sausage flavoured that week with ginger, garlic and lemongrass on a bun and a side of kimchi, which definitely took the edge off the cold, dismal weather. Coffee and shared dessert was supposed to be the next step, but espresso hazelnut brownies must have sounded like a good idea to everyone, as they were gone when it came time to order.

When I met my friend Lois at Relish a few weeks later, we ordered the brownie first to avoid disappointment.

Though the weather begged for it, we passed on the celeriac soup, since celeriac was already featured in one of the two salads.

Shredded and mixed with cannellini beans, this dish was substantial and refreshing, with seasoning kept simple to allow the delicate flavour of the main ingredients to stand out.

I enjoyed our second salad of Swiss chard and slivers of carrots, blood orange and cracked hazelnuts more than Lois did, but for me, dark greens with citrus is a favourite combination, though a touch of salt would have helped.

We felt the same way about the asparagus risotto. It was piping hot and creamy, the rice perfectly al dente, with vivid green asparagus, but a touch of salt or a little extra cheese would have added depth.

We loved our second dish - succulent crispy chicken with a hint of smoke, with roast cauliflower rice, fresh herbs, lightly pickled shards of vegetables and an Asian vinaigrette.

It made Lois, who was just back from Vietnam and Thailand, particularly happy, though we both felt there could have been a little more chicken for the $12 price tag.

As for the brownie, fashioned from dark chocolate, candied blood orange and roast hazelnuts that week, I can certainly see why they sell out so fast.

All of us would return for a meal here. Service is unfailingly friendly and the atmosphere pleasant, though Lois found the bench seating at one of the larger tables uncomfortable.

The menu, though simple, is always intriguing, and you can eat very well for less than $15, but we agreed that an option for a cup of soup or a smaller salad than those currently available wouldn't go amiss.

Demand seems to have surprised Cummins a little, because if you arrive after 1 p.m., you are likely to find things have disappeared off the menu, but this may be resolved, as rumour has it he is considering opening during the evening soon.

If you haven't been to Relish yet, it's definitely worth a visit and frankly, anyone who is willing to take on the 900 block of Pandora deserves our support.