Eating & Drinking like an Empress in Victoria
Last year, when adventures were still a thing, I went on a trip to Victoria, British Columbia.
I had never been to B.C before, but I knew I would love it because the British islander in me feels a life-long connection to the ocean. I was surprised to learn that Victoria is the capital of British Columbia rather than Vancouver, but it is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest and has an enduring charm.
Britain's colonial history has left its lasting mark on the city, named after none other than Queen Victoria. One of the most integral landmarks in the port city is the Fairmont Empress, also named after the late British Queen who was the Empress of India (somewhat self-declared, buy y'know...that's colonizers for you!). I had the pleasure of staying at the beautiful landmark building, frequented by British royalty over the years and a popular Edwardian Landmark. The views of the harbour from my bedroom suite filled me with such joy each day of my stay (as did the breakfast offerings!)
The Fairmont Empress
Like all Fairmont properties, the building is filled with luxury amenities and is personally well loved across Canada and beyond for its High Tea service. Replicas of the royal china are used to served a traditional tea of scones, sandwiches and decadent cakes. A tea sommelier will talk you through the extensive offerings and, yes, of course you can have a glass of bubbles. I opted for an Empress 75, a riff on the lavish French 75 but made with Empress Gin (put a pin in that) and grapefruit pearls! To add to the sense of occasion, a pianist tinkles the ivories as you dine, which allows you to be transported back to a time when tea and tantalizing chatter was a high society affair. As a British gal, I can firmly give Tea at the Empress a dainty pinky finger up. That's how we do thumbs up across the "pond", didn't you know?!
The Empress hotel is also home to the more modern Q Bar, where screen prints of Queen Vic have an almost Warhol vibe and you can order delights such as roasted sunchokes or glorious purple cocktails with (remember that pin?!) Empress Gin!
Oh, Empress Gin! Empress 1908 was created in homage to the Empress hotel so it is only right that it should be a bar staple! Empress 1908, for those of you who don't know, is royal blue. Or purple. Or pink. Depending on what you're doing with it! Why? Well, not only is royal blue a very...well...urm...royal colour, the hues of the gin are created using butterfly pea blossom. This isn't just a gimmick, this once again relates back to the historic Empress, which serves a famous "Blue Suede Shoes" tea using the flower as part of its historic tea service. OH and the gin is infused with Fairmont Empress signature tea. I love me some synergy...and I love me some gin!
The bottles are royal AF with a sophisticated sash labelling. Empress 1908 is distilled and bottled in Victoria by Victoria Distillers, who are based in Sidney, just down the road on Vancouver Island. I has the pleasure of visiting the distillery (and of sampling gin at 10am!) and it was an ocean-side glory! Yes, Empress 1908 is the bobby dazzler, but they also create a fantastic cocktail gin, a gin aged in oak (yum!), brandy, rum, vodka AND the best chocolate liqueur I have ever tried (seriously, ask them, it's been a year since my trip and I won't shut up about it!).
Empress 1908 has become a signature gin not just at its namesake hotel, but also at many other incredible restaurants across the city (and HOLY MOTHER OF IMBIBERY, there are a lot!)
The Courtney Room
The Courtney Room has been a breakout success in Victoria, being awarded a spot in the much coveted Canada's 100 Best Restaurants list and more. Think fine dining in an upscale brasserie with a menu of Pacific Northwest treats. I am pescatarian so I went all out on the fish. I have not forgotten the glory of the scallops, nor the tuna albacore, or the melt-in-my-mouth halibut. The "Potatoes Courtney" legit need an ode written to them. Next time I go back, I'll write one! I am not even being dramatic here (or, well, I am, but like...thats me?!) thinking of that meal still brings a tear to my eye!
OH and their Empress gin cocktail was one of my favourites of the weekend. The Sparkie featured everyone's favourite blue gin, lemon, creme de violet, white chocolate syrup, grapefruit bitters and egg white. DELIGHT.
Nourish might well be the cutest cafe in the entire world. Set back from the road in a leafy corner of Victoria, it is a good food lovers daylight dream. Even the interior of the place made me want to move to Victoria and join a bookclub just so I could host it here over a Imperial Sunrise Tumeric Latte on a Sunday morning.
After the sweet treats of Tea at the Empress, I opted for a savoury brunch offering; the Bonita Bowl. It was every shade of glorious, although I did cast an envious eye over the Sleeping Beauty pancakes topped with pomegranate molasses whip cream and bee pollen sprinkles. I MEAN COME ON!
A Short walk away from Nourish is the iconic Fisherman's Wharf, an artsy marine spot with colourful houseboats, seaside eateries and craft shops. One glance and I was in love with the cute floating village. Walking around the charmingly ramshackle community is just the tonic, especially when you live in a city. I could definitely imagine myself fleeing urban life and coming to live on a house boat!
Fisherman's Wharf is also the spot that a lot of whale watching and ocean tours depart from and if you can factor it into your budget I HIGHLY recommend booking a place on one of the scheduled daily adventures out to the pacific.
Ocean, Ocean, Ocean
My trip to Victoria was special for many reasons, but seeing an Orca whale for the first time is something I will never forget. I didn't manage to get any great photos of the orca I did see as I was so busy staring at the water rather than hoping to capture them on my phone; they're quick jumpers! Being out at sea and sailing by small little islands filled with sea lions and birds made me feel peaceful and inspired. How often is it you get to see so many incredible animals in one day?
If you don't have sea legs but still want a chance at enjoying the sweeping ocean landscapes, I recommend a trip to Clover Point. We cycled through Beacon Hill Park from Downtown Victoria and it was such a delight!
Did you know that Victoria is home to North America's second oldest Chinatown after San Francisco? Canada's first Chinatown dates back to 1858 when miners flocked to the area. I didn't get the chance to grab any food from Victoria's Chinatown, but I hear great things! Next time I visit I will save some room to try the delights!
Breakfast in Bed?
On my last morning at the gorgeous Fairmont Empress I decided to do something I have never done in my life; order breakfast in bed! I loved eating at the Q-Bar for breakfast on other mornings but my room was so beautiful and comfortable, I decided to have a long bath while I waited for my food to arrive, then ate it on a tray in a robe while reading a book. Life doesn't get a whole lot better, does it?
With time for one more stroll around before catching my flight, I already was dreaming of coming back to this beautiful sea-side city one day soon.
Thanks for the memories, Victoria!
This trip was part of a gifted experience by Empress 1908 Gin, however all views and opinions are truthful and my own.