The Pommeraie Bistro

1230 Merridale Road, Cobble Hill, B.C tel: (250) 743-4293

If you're looking for a drive in the country, The Pommeraie Bistro at the Merridale Cidery is among your better destination choices. Not only do you get a good meal, but you get to drink yummy cider and frolic around the orchard. This is agri-tourism.

They've got a pretty tight ship sailing the great commercial sea - almost like a tiny cider-fuelled Disneyland. They've got the cidery tours, a gift shop, a restaurant, the orchards and these peculiar fairy-themed dioramas. That said, bottom line, the food and restaurant was above average.

The restaurant is nestled in the orchard, in a new building with atrium like ceilings, a large interior fire place and a wraparound veranda.  They serve their own products, including a flight of six ciders for six dollars, as well as a small selection of wines, with good local representation.

With a reasonably lengthy menu, their attention to local products is the highlight, but I was similarly impressed by their multiple and innovative vegetarian selections.  This is one of the best vegetarian-friendly menus I've ever seen.

We started with the Cowichan Valley Ploughman's Platter ($18). Split between four people, this was the perfect lunchtime starter. Everything on the plate was local, except for some prosciutto (which kinda made me wonder, why they had tarnished the theme with the Italian import). A selection of salami, sausage, pickles, liver pate, chutney among other things, it was a really good sampler. I thought they could have spiffed up the presentation a bit (it looked good, but it could have looked awesome) and a couple of the items lacked a little intensity of flavour, but all in all it was a tasty and fun dish.

For our mains, I had the Pulled Pork and Apple Crepes ($13), Patty had the Cassoulet ($13), my sister-in-law Krista had the Pizza Basquaise ($12) and Ryan had the special of the day - a lentil and grilled vegetable salad ($10).

My crepes were good, I was able to appreciate the distinct flavour of the filling and I liked the creamy, smoked mozzarella topping. While not entirely traditional, Patty's Cassoulet, was among the better interpretations of the dish I've seen and was another good example of local product use. I have no idea how authentically Basque-style Krista's pizza was, but the combination of pulled pork, caramelised onion and  soft cheese, was light, but satisfying. Ryan's salad was a winner - simple, but the ingredients were painfully fresh.

While the service was good, these are your fine dinning servers of the future - i.e. kids.  No big deal, but it is a limiting factor. Similarly, the space is nice, but needs to get broken in a bit, it feels new and a little sterile. While the glassware they use is attractive and is provided by a local artisan, I didn't really enjoy drinking out of it. For example, the glasses used for the flights are beautiful, but are made from coloured glass, a bit of a problem when you're looking to compare qualities like colour and clarity. My final poke - the signage for the toilets is labelled 'water closet,' besides being pretentious (Europeans at least abbreviate it, since the term only refers to a flushing toilet, in contrast to a pit toilet - it's not as if Merridale gives you the choice of a non-flushing toilet), I can only imagine how many of their guests find it confusing. 

For the quality of the food, I was delighted by the value pricing of the menu. It's always a concern when you go to either a destination or tourist-oriented restaurants, that you're going to get gouged, but this was not the case.  If you're looking for an afternoon drive or your heading up the Malahat, the Pommeraie is a restaurant worth visiting.

Reviewed June 26, 2006