Sunday, May 18, 2014


Closed :(

Address: 45 Bastion Square
Phone: (250) 381-3433
Price: ~$25-30 for a main
Notes: West-coast, seasonal ingredients, stellar wine list and superb service make Camille's my favourite place for fine dining in Victoria.

Camille's Restaurant Front

Camille's defines its cuisine as 'Westcoast Fine Dining.' I am always surprised how it often falls under the radar in the grand scheme of all of the top-notch places to eat in Victoria, but the value is absolutely unparalleled to my amateur, but well-travelled, tastebuds. While restaurants like the Brasserie serve high quality rustic food at great value, Camille's is just a little bit more and the food on the plate is that much fancier and more unexpected.

You enter the old and reportedly haunted building by stepping down a flight of small stairs in Bastion Square into an old brick basement. After passing through the entrance, you enter the first of the two dining spaces. It is a smaller room, with a 1920s feel with muted colours, fancy glass lamps and chandeliers. Down a hallway and down another flight of stairs is the main dining area with a bit more brick, wood beams and apparently a bit more ghost.  My partner-in-food-and-life describes the first room as more 'feminine' and the second room as 'masculine.' In talking to other food-conscious people, the one complaint I heard about Camille's was the lighting. We usually sit in the front seating area which had been redesigned since our last visit and has three large chandeliers in addition to candles on each table and small side-table lamps.

Camille's was founded by chef/owner David Mincey, a wealth of knowledge of local food and food production techniques. He ran Camille's for many years before focusing full-time on his delicious canned goods & bean-to-bar chocolate importing. Current chef/owner Stephan Drolet is certainly filling the space left behind by David with his own set of accolades and a high level of respect in the food scene.

Camille's will always hold a special place in my heart. The meal my partner-in-food-and-life and I had there on a special New Years Eve dinner — a decade ago — set my standard for the restaurant experience; it is the archetype that I compare to for every single meal I post here. I could write a whole blog post about just that night and its absolute, total perfection. There is no exaggeration in saying that I still close my eyes and can recall every flavour and sensation! I also distinctly remember being horrified - first that the meal cost more than my rent at the time [admittedly this wasn't that much; I was a student in very cheap shared accommodation], and secondly that I was letting someone else pay for it! In retrospect, I am very glad I gave in because without that meal, this blog probably would not exist.

May 15, 2014
I was shocked to discovered it had been more than two years since our last visit to Camille's! Far too long! I was delighted to discover recently they now do a lunch service during the week (although they are still closed on Mondays). I was delighted for two reasons - the first is that the lunch menu is slightly more budget friendly for a regular return visits. Secondly - the lighting during the day produced photos that did far, far better justice to the beautiful food on the table than anything I had captured earlier!

Disclosure: I do have to note that I did uncharacteristically reach out via direct message on twitter to inquire whether the front room was available for lunch to make sure I could get adequate lighting for photos... so they were aware that I was visiting, but I didn't identify myself when we arrived or seek out any special service & paid for our meal in full.

The Caesar
The Caesar
My Partner-in-Food-and-Life ordered this to get a bit of a sample of their cocktails menu. Most of the cocktails on the menu certainly didn't fit with the nerdy cocktail trend that is currently sweeping the city, but the caesar was very satisfying and Quite spicy. 

Beet Salad
Beet Salad
I'm not entirely sure I didn't consume a piece of art, not lunch! The server proclaimed there was "every kind of beet imaginable" in there, and I'm pretty sure she was correct! There were even dehydrated beets, and the yellow tracing paper-thin were also made of golden beets and quite fantastic tasting. The red powder, however, is not beet but tomato... but added a nice zing. We noted that the greens were delightfully un-bitter. 

The Westcoast Bowl
The Westcoast Bowl (sample)
The kitchen did send us a wee sampler of their Westcoast bowl as an unexpected surprise. As you can see by the giant paragraph although it was only a small sample but there was a Lot going on in this dish worth commenting on! I immediately regretted not ordering it as my main.  I was also sad to hear that nettles are almost out of season, so it's not going to be available much longer, so if my description appeals make haste for a visit before it disappears from the menu!

The green colour in the photo does not do the tone justice. The broth did not taste green, however, it was very richly flavoured with an incredible depth of flavour punctuated by the distinct tasting garnishes. The trout pastrami was my first bite - smoky and rich. Next came a fiddlehead, which just came into season as well. It was perfectly prepared, which I know from personal attempts in the kitchen is not necessarily an easy task! The slice of bullrush made me happy - I had a chance to try one on a local food forage hosted by Cowichan Chef Bill Jones and the cucumbery flavour is so unexpected. The needles left a refreshing piney taste in my mouth that paired incredibly well with the broth and lingered in my mouth even after the rest of the meal was consumed. I was surprised by the side stripe shrimp — I have been getting more educated about local, sustainable seafood through the Slow Food "Slow Fish" campaign, and I now there are other kinds of local shrimp out there that are just as delicious but far more sustainable than side stripe (such as humpback shrimp!). However, we are currently at the start of side stripe season, and I know the spot prawn has only just opened so I am guessing it was a case of what was fresh & available. I regret to say that the description of what the long, thin green leaf was escaped my attention. 

The Wild Game Burger
The Wild Game Burger
I am such a sucker for a burger, and I guessed that this would never ever be on their dinner menu so I took a bullet and ordered it despite more exotic things on the menu. Sometimes I find burgers with game meat to have an odd flavour or texture, but this was not so. Their house "cottage" bun was very crunchy on the outside and held together well despite the generous toppings! The blue cheese, pickled walnuts & seasonal fruit mustard was not overpowering at all, in fact its sweetness and coherence was a surprise, I was expecting a much stronger, vinegary taste. The chickpea fries were excellent - they were incredibly light and fluffy, but still crispy on the outside. They looked similar to polenta fries, but the texture was far, far superior! 

Seafood Steam Buns
Seafood Steam Buns
These were my p.i.f.a.l.'s choice, and reminded us both how much we enjoy steam buns! The wrap format was unexpected, but worked quite well. The seafood was plentiful and delicious, but the pickled vegetables didn't quite stand out or contrast as much as we were both expecting! Although I didn't try a bite, the dressing on the side salad that accompanied the dish was called out as especially delicious.

January 20, 2012

Laughing Stock Blind Trust
In one of those wacky coincidences that happens so often in life, we got home and the wine we had picked had been profiled in the Globe & Mail! We opted for the 'Laughing Stock' Blind Trust red, a bordeaux-style blend. It was a happy surprise to see that our 1/2 litre only cost us $40 since the BC LDB price is $29 a bottle. Pretty reasonable mark-up all things considered! It would fall under the category of wines that we like to call 'very drinkable' by which we mean that it was not too sweet, not too tart but had enough flavour and balance to stand up. I also laughed, as the pairings suggested in the article fit perfectly into what we had each ordered!

This bread was some of the best bread I have ever enjoyed in my life! It even bested my Granny's bread (sorry Granny!). The browned crust on the outside added a lot to the overall texture, and the excellently salted butter was an excellent topping. Again - sorry for the terrible photos. I tried really hard to adjust them, but with only mediocre results!

Winter Chanterelle Salad
I opted for the winter-chantrelle salad. I immediately knew that the meal would live up to the long-ago meal of my memory! Such an incredibly savoury sauce without a hint of over seasoning... I cannot even begin to describe how incredible it was. There were two crispy pieces of garlicy crostini on the side, which I attempted to fill up like a cracker which was a bad decision, as it cracked enroute to my mouth. I am classy like that!

Roasted Beet Salad
My p.i.f.a.l.'s beet salad was also incredible, with a blue-cheese dressing to pair with the lightly roasted beets, greens on the side and half a hard-boiled egg. It all worked well together, even the unexpected egg, but I definitely had the superior choice.

Prosciutto wrapped Arctic Char
I felt like a lighter but still savoury main, so I opted for the prosciutto-wrapped arctic char. It was a very wise choice. What I think separates the food at Camille's into that amazing meal category was that I could have happily eaten a whole plate full of any part of that dish - includng the fennel, the parsnip (?) puree, and the vegetables - each piece was a masterpiece of flavour and texture that worked equally well on its own but was enhanced by combining with others. We were curious to know if the roe on the side was char (because wouldn't that make sense?) but the server was certain it was sturgeon.

Venison and Chili Polenta
My p.i.f.a.l. had the venison, which was perfectly cooked. It was crusted in pemmican, and the result wast so savoury that it blew away my mushroom starter. The side dish of smokey chili polenta is something I would love to try to replicate at home - we are pretty sure there was some bacony essence in there to enhance the smoke level. The chard on the side had been wilted in a pan that had cooked something extra specially delicious previously, and made my p.i.f.a.l. very happy.

Chai Tea Honey Cake
My 'excuse' for visiting was admittedly that it was partner-in-food-and-life's birthday, so despite the fact that the dessert was technically mine as my p.i.f.a.l. had overdosed on birthday cakes (plural!) earlier in the day it was brought to the table with a candle. Again, a fantastically executed piece of food! Crispy on the outside, soft and gentle on the inside with beautiful spices from the chai flavours. I didn't even mind the texture of the pear on the side, and normally pears dredge up horrid childhood memories.

Coffee and Biscotti
My one regret is that my last taste of coffee ended up being all un-stirred sugar and remnants of gingerbread biscotti, and it took away from all of the perfect flavours that had existed there just moments before. Still, our meal held up to the high standard built up in my memory from that first meal so long ago!  That meal was so responsible for my awakening of my passion for good, local food and I am so happy that they still match up to my high expectations.

May 15, 2014
As I mentioned above, I was nervous about being called out for food blogging, but if the kitchen knew our server certainly didn't give us any less fantastic service than any of the other tables! She was attentive, friendly, knowledgable and passionate to everyone I heard her speaking to.

The one thing I would note, and I know it's not quite something I always comment on but... I did notice a bit of a lazy dusting hand in a few places throughout the parts of the restaurant I visited. It stood out because it's not something I ever remember noticing in a restaurant before... and so it surprised me that for a restaurant with such attention to detail would have overlooked such a detail. However it is a pretty dusty time of year, and there has been construction in the area — it is quite possible this was a temporary situation. I am certainly the last person who should really be calling anyone out for a lack of dusting, I am pretty sure the bunnies under my bed are plotting to combine forces and strangle me in the night! [Update: Camille's wrote to say - yes, they had construction going on next door the week I visited, so this was a temporary situation!]

January 20, 2012

So the standard that Camille's set for us in terms of 'perfect service' our first visit wasn't quite upheld, but it was very close! The only thing that was 'off' was the pacing. My p.i.f.a.l. pointed out that part of that was probably due to the fact it was a standard dinner seating, and not a pre-set menu. Still - the fact that our bread arrived just moments before our appetizers felt uncharacteristically rushed... but I probably noted it especially because the time before had been so extra-exquisitely paced. Still, the staff were very attentive - there were maybe 5 tables of 2-4 people and one larger table in our section, and I saw at least four separate staff members serving at various times, all very friendly and helpful in their various roles.

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