Sidney by the Sea is a picture postcard come to life, but for foodies like me, it’s far more.
I discovered Sidney a decade ago, not long after moving to Vancouver Island, and as one of those individuals who takes food very seriously, I was amazed by the eclectic dining choices available in what is a relatively small community
Some of those choices, I found, were offered in the least likely looking restaurants. The Pier Bistro is a classic example.
It’s a small, wood-clad building that’s perched at the end of the pier at the end of Beacon Avenue. The structure and its location have a sort of touristy feel and I initially assumed it was just another tourist town fish and chip shop. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The restaurant uses locally sourced, fresh ingredients and its menu transcends the ordinary with offerings like an award-winning clam chowder and a version of crab cakes that caused me to instantly forget all other crab cakes I’d ever been served. The texture was perfect, the seasoning exotic and the flavours simultaneously subtle and extraordinary.
But it was the dinner entrées that really captured my imagination. There, in this rustic little building, balanced on piles at the end of a wharf, I tried the lemon butter basted halibut topped with an orange and dragonfruit gastrique. My partner had the grilled halibut topped with a chipotle aioli — and we were ecstatic. The food was pure artistry, as appealing to the eye as it was to the taste buds.
But the Bistro is not unique. I’ve found a host of restaurants in this tiny hamlet that have inspired me to come back time and time again.
The Sabhai Thai restaurant, for example, is operated by the Sirimalalak family, who prepare every dish from scratch using only fresh ingredients combined in accordance with traditional family recipes.
Maria’s Souvlaki Greek Restaurant is another surprise. Its quaint sidewalk seating is reminiscent of European cafés and the lamb souvlaki is consistently mouthwatering. It’s tender and tasty with a sauce that, while a bit messy, is worth every bit of the effort.
Bistro Suisse is yet another surprise. While Swiss cuisine might not have the world-wide recognition of some other ethnic foods, we tried the wine and cheese fondue and were blown away by the burst of flavour.
The same quality of food can be found in a host of other Sidney eating places, many serving stunning dishes in a wide range of ethnic styles and flavours.
But, like many foodies, as much as I enjoy dining out, there are times when I can only capture the flavours I crave by personally preparing a meal for myself or friends. When the urge to prepare something special wins out, Sidney is still the place to go. That’s because, beyond its stunning range of fabulous restaurant fare, Sidney offers lovers of good food an amazing array of ingredients for top-notch home cooking.
|Ken Norbury shows off fresh crab and rock fish at his Satellite Fish Company shop. Don Denton photography.|
Located on the same pier as the Pier Bistro, Ken’s store is a no-frills storefront, where he and his staff expertly clean and filet freshly caught fish right on the spot. I stood, amazed, as Ken wielded his razor-sharp knife like a surgeon, all the while discussing current events, the weather or the quality of the day’s catch with a collection of customers.
Need some freshly baked bread? Go to the Sidney Bakery. You’ll recognize it by the long lines of customers, all there for the latest and freshest baked creations. The lines can be long, but the baked goods are worth the wait.
Just outside town, there’s another unique source of cooking ingredients at Urban Bee Honey Farm. That’s where Lindsay and Jason Dault have perfected the production of artisan honey in ways the uninitiated might find startling.
In addition to offering a seemingly endless variety of yard-honey, the Daults have developed infused honeys that provide the true foodie with some exciting cooking options.
There’s a honey infused with the heat of locally grown habanero peppers, perfect for pairing with cheeses, ice cream or a simply amazing stir-fry. A whiskey-infused honey is on offer as well, prepared by aging the product in retired whiskey barrels. It’s amazing as a marinade, and a favourite of Lindsay’s male clients.
Speaking of marinades, there’s a smoked honey which we discovered adds a unique, delicate flavour to salmon or ribs.
|Jason and Lindsay Dault use a smoker to calm their bees while checking hives on their Urban Bee Honey Farm property. Don Denton photography.|
Leaving the Honey Farm and travelling down the road (dotted with signs offering fresh duck eggs, free-range chickens and pigs raised on whiskey mash) one finds the rustic little grocery Deep Cove Market.
The market is unlike anything you’ll find outside a large urban centre, and owner Rosemary Scott beams as she speaks about how she attends food shows around the country to bring specialty products to the Peninsula.
She carries an astounding collection of cheeses (many locally sourced), as well as exotic teas, natural fruit jellies and even creme brûlée almonds. Rosemary augments the specialty items with a fresh assortment of locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables and locally made sausages and other meat selections.
It’s a perfect spot to browse the wide selection of cookbooks or simply grab a great cup of coffee and chat with neighbours at one of the rough-hewn tables.
As it turns out, whether you’re the sort of foodie who is searching for a new dining-out experience or on a quest for unique ingredients for your own culinary experimentation, Sidney by the Sea is the place to go.
-Story by Tim Collins