Canada’s Best New Restaurant, Restaurant 20 Victoria, shows us the way back from the pandemic–born land of the fast and casual.
“Our trout is from Affinity Fish in Toronto and our swordfish is from Organic Ocean in B.C.; it’s fully traceable,” our cheerful, aproned server tells us when we grill her about our first two dishes. Composed of just a few ingredients, their magic has left us walleyed with wonder: a silky, vegetal swordfish and caraway crudo with fennel and an almond–sherry vinegar sauce, and a restrained, delicately steamed trout dish with radishes, crème fraîche and pink grapefruit. Because she’s so humble and preternaturally sunny, it takes us a few moments to catch on: We’re speaking to head chef Julie Hyde.
If you haven’t heard of her – she slipped off to hone her talent in the three–Michelin–starred kitchens Maison Lameloise in Burgundy and London’s Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester – the Scarborough, Ontario–raised star–in–the–making leads the kitchen at the much–anticipated successor to Brothers Food & Wine (No. 8, CBNR 2017). Here floor–to–ceiling draperies, herringbone parquet floors and crisp white linens fancy up the old Imperial Life Building. The upfront bar area is for à la carte plates, and the dining room and patio for the six–course tasting menu (with optional wine pairings and add–ons).
The staff is lean and non–hierarchical: Hyde and sous chef Jenna Reich serve as well as tend the kitchen, making short trips between the front and back. This is performance, everyone acknowledges: “We hired really experienced cooks who are comfortable working in the open,” Hyde explains. Yet host and partner Christopher White, usually found patrolling the floor, is nowhere to be seen; the dishwasher called in sick tonight so he’s in back, scrubbing.
Floor manager Danna Oleynikov tells us a little story about every wine pairing she introduces from a pulsating, all–winners list put together by sommelier Toni Weber. The bone–dry fruity and mineral–driven biodynamic Domaine Trapetriesling was born when the Alsatian wife of a revered Burgundy winemaker wanted to try his methods on her home turf. Like the restaurant itself, it’s restrained yet electrically charged, cutting like a jewelled knife through the richness of the rustic “nonna soufflé,” the creamy flan–like sformato surrounded by lightly buttered al dente peas and topped with sturgeon caviar.
Across the room, a lovestruck couple and the trio of friends next to them are taking turns snapping photos of each other, while a pair of pearl–and–Chanel–wearing ladies take their check. Reich presents us with her salted, honeyed and herbal lemon semifreddo. Here, too, the building blocks are simple – partly, Reich says, out of necessity: “I don’t have an ice cream maker.” So, she’s blended sugar, eggs and whipped cream with whole preserved lemons to make something so mouth–puckering it barely qualifies as dessert. Yet the result – like everything at this best new restaurant in Canada – is brilliant.
Don’t miss: A hallmark of Brothers Food & Wine continues here, with pitchers of fresh flowers that chef Julie Hyde picks up every day on her way to work.