Vancouver’s most prominent restaurant group, Toptable, which counts celebrated mainland thoroughbreds CinCin, Blue Water Cafe, West, Thierry, Elisa, Il Caminetto, Araxi and Bar Oso in its stable, is Island-bound.
Even though construction has yet to begin in earnest at the time of writing, the as-yet-unnamed restaurant at 1515 Douglas St. in downtown Victoria couldn’t be a hotter topic, especially among local industry types. Whenever the subject of the food scene’s trajectory comes up, the restaurant – still cloaked in mystery – quickly leads the conversation.
Depending on who you ask, the highly anticipated 130 seater will either a). set a new standard for service protocols in the capital, b). mesmerize and draw away all the young and ambitious cooks who might presently be working elsewhere, c). be the best seafood restaurant in Victoria’s history before the very first shift clocks out, d). have the deepest wine list managed by the city’s most versed and well-travelled sommeliers, e). open up a last judgment hell pit through which all mainland interlopers and invaders will be violently flung, or f). be the most casual and approachable Toptable establishment to date — an elevated, more adventurous Earls or Cactus Club without the airborne misogyny and tediously uninteresting food.
I think it’ll be an amalgam of at least some of the things that people are predicting, save for the hell pit fate that is surely the stuff of xenophobic fantasy (right, Meat & Bread?). The chef, Kristian Eligh, is a talented, ambitious, hands-on toiler who was Island-raised before disappearing into the Michelin pressure fog overseas only to return – svelte Bilbo-like – with a bag full of tricks and inspiration. But the truth is I just don’t know enough to make major predictions about the place with any authority.
I have, however, been writing about Toptable for many years (since before the Napoleonic Wars), so I’m not totally clueless. I have eaten at their restaurants countless times and have judged their chefs, including Eligh, at competitions like the Gold Medal Plates and the Canadian Culinary Championships. I even helped to write one of their cookbooks. All of that is to say I’m deeply familiar with the fact that they don’t do anything half-arsed. This is a company that is nothing if not meticulous and thorough. It wouldn’t be wrong or unfair of any of us to have very high expectations of this new restaurant. Anything less than excellent in every department – food, drink, service, atmosphere, value – would be a shocker.
So go ahead and do as the industry types do: anticipate a beautifully designed, standard-setting, well-stocked and expertly executed game-changer that deals with deliciousness in ways Victoria’s hospitality landscape will benefit from for years.
It will take our money, and we will be glad of it.