Staying in Sooke – Fall at Sooke Harbour House
I adore fall and find there’s nothing better than a stroll on a coolish day when the sun is still shining, yet there’s a crispness in the air and a need for an extra layer to insulate one from the impending chill. This is the best time to get away in British Columbia and really take the time to watch the foliage turn colour and the land claim back what’s left in the fields to refurbish its soil.
Vancouver Island often calls me and I feel so at ease there as I sync/sink into the slower pace almost right off the ferry I take from Tsawassen. It’s a 90 minute ferry ride to the other side, and another half hour or so until the road brings you to Sooke, and then the trail to Sooke Harbour House, where I recently had a most memorable stay.
Sooke Harbour Hous was built in 1929 as a simple two-story farmhouse inn with a dining room for visitors. In 1979 Frederique and Sinclair Philip, purchased the, it five small guestrooms, but no private guest bathrooms, and only a small dining room. The couple continued to renovate though to 1986 when they built ten additional far larger guestrooms, then renovated the initial five in 1988 and added 13 rooms in 1998, bringing the total to the current 28. The hotel is known for its luxurious, spacious rooms, superb hospitality, top notch dining and gorgeous gardens, all which are maintained to this day, attracting locals and visitors from all around the globe.
I stayed in a most spacious room, which was a bit wasted on me as I was solo, but I did my best to use up the most welcoming space, taking a bath in the mid-room tub, sprawling out on the couch to read and occupying the majority of the king bed throughout the night. It was almost too much, but I managed.
I had met Frederique Philip at a Feast of Fields in Duncan a few year’s back and was thrilled she was joining me for dinner. One could not hope for a more entertaining and knowledgeable dinner companion. While the food was foremost, she unveiled stories of her journeys and the history of Sooke, acting as a fitting backdrop for a remarkable evening.
My photos do not convey Chef Jonas Stadtländer talents properly as the lighting was getting trying as the evening went on and we sampled leisurely through the pairing menu. Stadtlander’s father, Michael Stadlander, led the kitchen at Sooke in the 80’s and it’s quite special to see his son come up the ranks and join this highly regarded resort, with his own approach to the area’s local cuisine.
Local is an absolute that stands out at Sooke, and always has. While farm to table, field to table, foraged and free range are words that are now splattered on menus as often as drinks are splashed on them, Sooke Harbour House always had this mandate. The restaurant followed the seasons and the chefs that came and went from their took this style of cooking with them. Frederique and Sinclair were pioneers in this field, and did not just influence those on the Island, and throughout British Columbia, but created practices that shaped the local movement throughout North America and beyond.
Highlights of the dinner included the Roasted Pork Belly, balanced with mustard-braised lentils, lovage pork jus, asparagus and morels; these wild mushrooms had just come into season and were superbly dense with earthy flavours.
Grilled Albacore Tuna came with a Sooke-grown wasabi (held by Fredrique above), a strawberry ginger glaze, tempura radish greens, and radish and foraged sea asparagus, another example of exquisite local ingredients enhanced by international techniques. A Kettle Valley Riesling balanced out the mild spiciness in the dish.
Cowichan Valley is not far up Island from Sooke and a Pekin Duck had been brought for the next dish, duck breast dish with a savoury jus, buttered spring leeks, tortellini and red and golden beets. Perfectly cooked, quite tender and a stellar pairing for the Pinot Noir from Tantalus Vineyards.
The meal was fulfilling on so many levels and as I drifted back to my room for a final hour or so before that king size bed called, I thought of all the memories that had been created in this very space over the last century and how rare a place this still is to this day.
In the morning I strolled the property and peaked into some of the other guest rooms (the empty ones of course) and had a breakfast before I had to venture out. A wedding was to take place that day and the prep was well under way. Many more memories were being made as I looked on, and I absorbed many of my very own.