Haro's Restaurant in the Sidney Pier Hotel and Spa

9805 Seaport Place, Sidney, BC, tel 250.655.9445 map

Sidney is not exactly known as a draw for adventurous Victorians looking for an exciting dining experience, but after being inundated for Haro's Restaurant in the Sidney Pier Hotel,with advertising claiming something to the contrary, I decided to give it some thought. It sounded interesting - Sidney needs something upscale. I was however, dubious of a certain line of advertising trying to recruit staff, with promises of higher than market wages. To me, that means a couple of things - a) bullshit or b) major labour shortage, that could likely express itself in bad service.  Most likely a combination of both.

In the interest of public safety, we checked in to the hotel for the night. A very nice winter rate, for a lovely and modern room, with a partial sea view. While I was happy with the hotel and would recommend staying the night, I got my first clue to what might be in store. The front desk staff were giggling teenagers, one of whom appeared to know what he was doing, but was accompanied by a young man who appeared to be doing nothing at all except distracting other staff.

To disclaim and be fair, the visit occurred during the Dine Around promotion, when staff tend to be overwhelmed with volume. I don't have a tremendous amount of sympathy for them, because with out Dine Around, there would be a lot more seasonal layoffs and I think most people agree, it's better to work hard than not work at all.

We arrived to a short wait and somewhat frazzled looking staff. We were seated  fairly quickly, but did have to wait a long time for our server to bring our aperitifs. The server, like most of the staff we encountered that night was very young for the type of work she was doing. She was sortof pulling it off, but in any urban hotel restaurant, she would have been serving lunch. She'd received some training, but she didn't seem to have any personal appreciation for the tasks she was performing. She didn't know much about the food and her wine service was awkward. Having completed our first bottle of wine, we flagged her down to order something else. She was surprised, albeit pleased, that we wanted more wine, but noted most of her clientele wouldn't dare order more than one bottle. I understood her point, I think, that the clientele is elderly and doesn't drink much, but it was a weird thing to say. She was honest about not knowing the wine list very well, but when I asked her to check something with the bartender, she came back to explain she was unable to do so because the bartender was in a really bad mood - perhaps I'd like to order something different? This appeared to be an ongoing problem for her, because she was also unable to ask the kitchen anything, because they as well were in a bad mood. Later in the evening, having identified Patty as a cook, she came to the table and asked Patty a question about her own menu, on behalf of another table, because the kitchen wouldn't tell her. Wow - maybe she was indeed a big scaredy cat, but it makes you wonder what's going on in the back end.

Among the restaurants advertising campaign subject matter, is the glorification of their crab chowder. Driving to Sidney we even passed a large billboard promoting it. It's a good idea, promoting a signature item, but I was curious about the dish itself. In my opinion crab is too delicate for chowder in terms of both texture and flavour - it is rather, born to be bisque. Also, it seems crazy to use Dungeoness crab for chowder, since it's expensive and even more delicate then some other species. That said, I'm willing to wrong, because I love crab. In the end it was more or less as I expected, tasty, but the best use of crab.

We also had the duck confit salad. The confit, was shredded and easy to eat, and I liked the frisee and the hazelnuts, but the cranberries made it all taste a little too christmassy. It was good, I even go so far to declare it better than the 'signature' soup.

For our main we had the the lamb and the cod. The lamb is braised in a conventional, but tasty way. No culinary breakthroughs here, but always crowd pleaser. It was unfortunately cold. The polenta was creamy and it's a good pair with lamb shank, but I liked the brocolini the best - it was also the warmest thing on the plate.

Patty scarfed down his cod, making me rather jealous. It was the clear winner - seared with a squash puree.

For dessert we had a lemon tart and a chocolate truffle cake. They were pleasant, but nothing to write home about and the presentation needed some work.

There seems like there's room for improvement at Haro's - plenty of potential, but room for improvement. It's a nice space and a good concept and for all there appears to be some serious staffing and management issues, it did appear that some effort was being made to train under qualified staff. For all the quirks, it was a pleasant excursion out of town.

reviewed - Feb 2008