Marilena Café & Raw Bar in Victoria takes the number three spot on the Top 10 list of Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2023.
Marilena Café & Raw Bar
A geometric neon light spotlights sushi chef Clark Park spinning maki like a South Beach DJ. There are Negronis on tap and the bow–tied servers have their sleeves rolled up. This is a new form of Island hospitality that is upscale yet assertively unstuffy: Arc’teryx meets herringbone over oysters.
From a soft banquette we can see Kristian Eligh in chef’s whites, shining like a Marilena – a name that means “bright star of the sea” (he’s also a free diver) – in his gleaming multimillion–dollar kitchen. After a long stint as chef David Hawksworth’s right–hand man, he joined the Toptable Group (Blue Water Cafe, CinCin) to lead their first grand vision in Victoria. To that end, there’s a 5,000–plus–bottle cellar that guests enjoy from linen–swathed tables. The seafood towers appear to hold all the secrets of the Pacific, and there are truffles under glass at the service pass.
When shrimp cocktail is done right it’s the perfect gift: just–cooked, jumbo–plump and nicely iced. Then there’s plush pea agnolotti tossed with truffle butter, ceviche mixto with a scant handful of pomegranate seeds. Burrata from Puglia with heirloom tomatoes dressed in Venturi–Schulze balsamic tastes like pure Saanich sunshine. And I notice at least one plate of Park’s aburi wild sockeye salmon on every table.
Victoria native Eligh had a while to consider the food for this much–delayed project. What he came up with is a menu calibrated to balance familiarity and formality in a stunning restaurant that does the same.