Blighty's Bistro

2006 Oak Bay Ave, tel 250-592-5111, closed Sunday and Monday

Blighty's Bistro enjoys a remarkable reputation among its devout Oak Bay clientele. Always busy, I've never heard anything but praise for its food and service. Stuff like that always makes me suspicious. I have eaten there a few times over the years and enjoyed myself, but we decided it was time for a more thorough assessment.

Being closed on Sunday and Monday, it took us awhile to coordinate a visit. Whenever I've tried to spontaneously visit, I haven't been able to get a reservation, so we also booked a few days ahead.

Upon arrival for our 8 pm reservation, we were greeted and seated promptly. Clearly, on a Tuesday evening 8 pm is a late seating, as the other tables in the restaurant seemed to be nearing the end of their meals.

Our cocktail service was a little slow, but the water service was fast. I was surprised however, by the selection of cocktails. Not bad considering the style of restaurant and different from a visit a few years ago when they didn't have a spirits license and I was horrified to be denied my gin and tonic.

Our server, while a little unpolished, was able to answer all our questions, including a couple of somewhat tricky wine inquiries. I was little irritated that they didn't have my first two wine selections in stock. There seemed to be an effort to feature local winery products, they just didn't seem to have any of them. I accepted the proprietor's recommendation of the Glenugie Chardonnay ($33).   It's a Fraser Valley winery that I'd previously been disappointed in so I was a little nervous about the decision, but happy that she'd made a recommendation that reflected my initial request. Not a fantastic wine, but it worked. The wine list is heavy on the econo wines, with a few interesting selections, but seemed to be more focused on providing a little bit of everything (in a low price range) than pairing with the menu.

Blighty's self-describes as Danish inspired cuisine. While I have seen this influence on previous visits, it seemed more less absent on this one. No biggee for me, but if you're looking for Danish, you may find it under-represented. The menu did appear to feature much lighter selections than on previous visits, with more seafood and more vegetables.

We ordered the Grilled Calamari to start ($11). Perfectly cooked and nicely seasoned. It was even a little spicy, especially for an Oak Bay restaurant serving a mature clientele. The presentation was elegant and the portioning perfect.

For our mains, Patty had the Salmon ($22) and I had the Ling Cod special ($23). They were both very nice, extremely fresh and served with lovely local, lightly cooked cooked vegetables. I was a little disappointed how similar the two dishes were to one another. Patty's salmon had a little lentil topping and my cod had some roasted tomatoes with it, but otherwise the presentations were pretty similar. In both cases, the fish seemed a little overcooked for our taste (it was a medium-well and we'd normally go medium rare), but not in an unforgivable way. Again, in an Oak Bay restaurant, I'd expect that most customers prefer it the way they served it.  Does it seem like I'm being hard on Oak Bay diners? Maybe, but I've lived in Oak Bay for over twenty years (and cooked professionally there for five of them), so I'm standing by it.

We didn't have room for dessert, but I loved their innovative dessert list presentation (in a canister, filled with individual cards featuring individual selections). I did have a brandy and while I wasn't offered any particular choice of brand names, it was served warm in snifter balanced on top of a steaming cup of water. I liked it.

The server who began our service disappeared after taking our orders, after which we were served by the proprietor. My impression is that she's a big part of the restaurant's success. She's a bit of an oddball, but in a way that clearly makes people feel comfortable and 'at home' in her space. In fact, the ambiance and food style does remind me vaguely of having dinner in a friend's living room. A little unrefined, but relaxing and unpretentious. The food quality is high with a sincere effort to highlight local products. There is room to increase the sophistication of some of the executions. While, we enjoyed everything, the lack of distinction, not only between our two dishes, but also the different flavours on our main courses was apparent. A little deconstruction of flavours would go a long way. That said, it was good value, tasted good and I enjoyed myself.

reviewed August 29, 2006