Harbour House Restaurant

607 Oswego St, Victoria BC 250-386-1244

Not what we expected.

We expected a fairly mediocre dining experience, as any local would given the location of the Harbour House deeply imbedded in Victoria's densest tourist hotel district.

Certainly not a hoppin' stop for twenty or thirty year olds, the Harbour House does what it does in an acceptable way. Geared towards an older dining crowd, the menu and atmosphere are a combination of classic French and nostalgic 1960s. Clearly, not a combination to suit everyone's taste, but nothing to balk at either.

We thought the music was terrible, easy listening in my opinion should never accompany food. Later in the evening, some jazz came on and I wondered why they weren't playing more of that.

The decor is reminiscent of what your restaurant would look like if your grandma was the designer. That said, it's not poorly done, just extremely dated. A few superficial changes and the Harbour House could look like a moderately sophisticated French restaurant.

The service was impeccable. Our server, an experienced gentleman, attended to us with the utmost professionalism. Absolutely, no complaints there. It was strange however, how many staff they had on, on a Monday night in January; three tables = two servers and a hostess. 

The food was another surprise. While overpriced, it was good. Patty started with the escargot ($10.50), served in the shell and was delighted by the classic presentation and quality. I had the lobster bisque ($7.50), a smidgen rich for my taste it was the classic version of the dish. On a side note, their bread was flavourless and really needs improvement.

Patty had the Steak Neptune ($24.95), steak topped with asparagus, crab meat and Béarnaise sauce. He remarked on the authenticity of the Béarnaise (no fat spared) and perfect doneness of his meat. I had the rack of lamb ($28.95), which similarly was cooked perfectly and served with a well flavoured sauce. The sauce would have been a bit more elegant had it been thinner and less gravy like, but again considering the clientele I shant complain.  I also really liked the finger bowl that accompanied my chops, as a shameless bone gnawer myself, I enjoyed being encouraged to pick up my food with my hands.

What was weird about the food, was the presentation. Served on dishware more familiar to a diner than a fine dinning restaurant, there was near zero attention to presentation. The vegetables, while perfectly cooked, were simply piled next to one another, very much how grandma's serve dinner.

It also needs to be added that in addition to the French items on the menu, there are a selection of what I consider comfort food, but I suppose might have been more elegant selections in the 1960s. Dishes such as Salisbury Steak (they call it ground sirloin).

The wine list was expensive and the mark-ups extreme. However, the selection was good, even better than it needs to be. Featuring a good selection of higher-end BC wines (we had the Sumac Ridge Black Sage Cab) and imports, mainly new world.

Value is an issue, we found the prices high. While the quality was high, in order to get away with main courses in the $25-$30 range, we think you need to have creativity too. For those of us who walk by the Harbour House regularly, you'll also be familiar with the on-going Steak and Lobster for $19.95 special. We thought that kind of advertising and pricing of that dish was blatant consumer baiting, as it didn't really reflect the general pricing of the menu. 

We determined through careful deliberation that the Harbour House deserves a recommendation, despite that fact that it's not our cup of tea. A nice restaurant that caters to an older clientele makes sense in Victoria and if I had living grandparents, or elderly guests in town, the Harbour House would be on my list for a meal and service that would please a multi-generational crowd.

  Reviewed: January 30, 2005