A stroll in the gardens of Sooke Harbour House at the southern tip of Vancouver Island is no mere walk in the park. Most every plant surrounding the white clapboard inn and creeping down Whiffen Spit to the shore of Juan de Fuca Strait is pulling double duty-offering a feast for the palate as well as the eye. The gardens reflect the philosophy that, since 1979, has helped Sinclair Philip and his wife, Frédérique, with the assistance of their four adult children, keep their “family project” rated among the world’s best inns and restaurants.
The plantings are a riot of greenery and colour, a living symbol of the Philips’ belief that great food is local, seasonal, organic where possible, rooted in the area’s history, and ethically produced. The menu, by head chef Edward Tusón, is a daily miracie drawn from what flowers in the garden and what arrives from an eclectic mix of small farmers, fishers and
foragers of mushrooms, seaweeds and shellfish. “We love these people,” says Sinclair, “people with dirty hands and gumboots.”
He stops on a garden path to show off nasturtiums and ox-eye daisies, both excellent in salads, and salai bushes. All appear on the evening’s menu, adding flavour, colour andwith a salai berry reduction-a tart zap to an asparagus, chive and goat cheese terrine. Mustard greens delivered that day end up in an entree of Cowichan Bay Farm duck breast glazed with sage honey, Bing cherry and the subtle, lemony shoots of the grand fir tree.
The daily menu is deceptive. As exotic as it seems, it’s really a celebration of the everyday environment of southern Vancouver Island. Even the stellar wine list is dominated by B.C. vineyards. The inn is stuffed with art, all local, a passion of French-born Frédérique. Chef Tusón, for that matter, was born up-isiand in Nanaimo. Very little at Sooke Harbour House comes from afar, which is why, ironically, it draws clientele from around the world. K.M.
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