The top three restaurants in Victoria this year, as decided by YAM’s panel of judges.
By Cinda Chavich
Best Overall: OLO
Brad Holmes, chef and owner of OLO. Photograph by Jeffrey Bosdet.
When chef Brad Holmes and his wife Sahara Tamarin arrived in Victoria, Holmes was fresh from a stint working with top Vancouver chef David Hawksworth and had a dream of an intimate, chef-driven restaurant here. That dream started with award-winning Ulla, then morphed into OLO, a stylish space that’s now firing on all cylinders.
With its slow food (and now slow fish) focus, great cocktail and wine program, and stellar service, OLO appeals to Victoria’s discerning but casual crowd, fulfilling Holmes’ ongoing desire to craft beautiful, seasonal dishes and pay homage to local farmers, fishers and foragers.
He’s dubbed it “time and place” cuisine, and his new chef, Carmen Ingham, is on point with dishes ranging from lamb tartare with sorrel and cured egg yolk, to sablefish cheek with daikon and pickled seaweed, all artfully plated with an array of colours and textures. There’s also a seasonal family meal for diners to share — a selection of main courses like a whole roasted chicken, smoky ham hock with tender pierogis, or a platter of local seafood swimming in savoury dashi broth.
Holmes says OLO translates to “hungry” in the coastal patois, and he’s channeling that Cascadian cultural influence with a team that offers a seamless dining experience.
OLO Restaurant, 509 Fisgard St., 250-590-8795, olorestaurant.com
Second Runner Up: Agrius
The cured albacore tuna from Agrius is accompanied by shaved turnips and radishes, a turnip green emulsion, pineapple sage, fennel and almonds. Photograph by Jeffrey Bosdet.
Agrius won major national accolades upon opening in 2015, and was named one of the best new restaurants in the country right out of the gate. With its urbane vibe, Agrius continues to win loyal fans.
An offshoot of Cliff Leir’s uber-artisan Fol Epi bakery, Agrius truly walks the farm-to-table talk. Come for daily brunch, noshes like oysters or corn dogs during afternoon happy hour, or elegant evening creations like spot prawn gazpacho or wild ling cod with mushrooms and pak choi. Vegetables are fermented in house; there’s a daily terrine to sample alongside house-made charcuterie and freshly baked breads. Whether it’s Stillmeadows pastured pork or grass-fed Island beef, the food is seasonal, organic and intentional.
The space is busy, noisy and full of energy, with an open kitchen where the culinary magic is on constant display, whether it’s butcher Paul van Trigt stocking the curing room or chef Max Durand plating on the line.
Agrius, 732 Yates St., 778-265-6312, agriusrestaurant.com
Third Runner Up: Zambri’s
The local vegetable salad at Zambri’s features spring salmon, octopus, coriander flowers, balsamic vinegar glaze and vegetables that are only delicately touched by heat. Photograph by Jeffrey Bosdet.
When it comes to Italian cooking, chef Peter Zambri comfortably commands the space between innovative and authentic.
After nearly 20 years behind the stoves at Zambri’s, the chef, mentor and recent inductee into the BC Restaurant Hall of Fame is still in his downtown kitchen every day, exploring this classic cuisine. Whether it’s rare olive oil or vegetable croccante with fior di latte cheese, spaghetti alla puttanesca with local tuna, or riffing on Sicilian-style sardines with local herring, cranberries and hazelnuts, Zambri’s menu continues to evolve. Diners can expect authentic Italian ingredients and combinations that showcase what’s seasonal and fresh.
Peter opened Zambri’s with his sister Jo in 1999, first as a sandwich shop, then as a cozy trattoria that grew into today’s stylish space in the Atrium. Zambri says the great chefs and sommeliers who’ve come through the restaurant have “helped us forge our name,” keeping the food a consistent reflection of his style.
With his quality Italian food — and his sister’s savvy front-of-the-house management — Zambri’s offers diners a comfortable, and comforting, experience, whether you arrive for a simple plate of pasta or a special celebration.
Zambri’s, 820 Yates St., 250-360-1171, zambris.ca
More Best Restaurants
The 2018 Best Restaurants were selected by a panel of judges. Meet the judges here.
Best Overall Restaurants
Best New Restaurants
Best Casual Restaurants
Best Hidden Gems
Best Cocktail Bars
Best Food Trucks
Even More Best Restaurants
This is from the July/August 2018 issue of YAM