Sooke Harbour House

1528 Whiffen Spit Road, Sooke (250) 642-3421

To anyone who pays even the slightest attention to the culinary goings-on in Western Canada, the Sooke Harbour House is already synonymous with fine dinning. Loaded with local and international recognition, the restaurant is extensively noted for  their innovative use of extremely local and high quality ingredients.

Contrary to what many might think, the dinning room is a fairly informal affair. The dress code is decidedly casual and you'll be overdressed in a business suit. However, it's not without pomp and circumstance - the service is formal and the cuisine sophisticated.

On this night we signed up for the gastronomical adventure with wine pairings. They key feature of this $100, multiple course, table d'hote menu, is that it's all a surprise and there are no choices or substitutions. Combined with wine pairings we pushed the tab up to $150 per person. Certainly, in a restaurant famous for its wine cellar, it's a better value and more interesting to order the pairings and benefit from the experience of the sommelier.

Having had a glass of wine with every of our eight courses, we are in no way able to describe in detail all of the lovely food we ate. That said, every course came with lengthy description on the part of the server and were loaded with very local and occasionally obscure ingredients. Of course, the execution of the dishes was expert and the attention to detail meticulous. Unlike many fine dinning establishments the Sooke Harbour House has a mandate to serve only local products; as much a blessing, this can also operate as a limitation. We had some very interesting local fare such as gooseneck barnacles, gooeyduck and sea urchin. Despite that, we were a little surprised to be served, at the climax of the meal, two relatively simple and common dishes featuring salmon and chicken. While they were both well prepared and delicious, they were less interesting than what we were hoping for - since, after all, it was called a 'gastronomic adventure'.

The wine however, surpassed the food with respect to novelty and appropriateness. Our sommelier, a very a likeable fellow who managed our barrage of questions professionally and with a sense of humour, selected an intriguing sequence of accompanying wines, including a Kettle Valley Petit Verdot and a Dirty Laundry Gewürztraminer, that both struck me as fun and unusual choices.

The Sooke Harbour House has a reputation of leaving diners a little hungry at the end of their meals. I would like to contradict this reputation as in both of the two opportunities I've had to dine at this establishment, I have left quite full. The Sooke Harbour House also has lives by the reputation of one of its proprietors - Sinclair Philip. Mr Philip is a very high profile person in dinning circles and is well known for his dedication and opinions. On this evening we had the occasion to sit at the table next to the one at which Mr Philip was entertaining some guests. While not for everyone, this vantage was very interesting for Patty and I. Upon engaging us in conversation regarding some product inquiries we were making, we had the opportunity to experience not only the man's commitment to his restaurant and its clientele, but also his reputed style. Encountering him again the next morning as we checked out, we left convinced of the man's unconventional charm.   

If you're looking for a unique experience and the opportunity to experiment with local cuisine at its purest, the Sooke Harbour House is a fun and somewhat decadent way to spend the evening. You'll be surprised by the generally unpretentious atmosphere and accessibility of this restaurant that's made its reputation by appearing in high end travel and culinary magazines.

Reviewed November 20, 2005