by Andrew Morrison | We like Tofino. It’s sort of been our escape of choice since forever. We have a habit of spending two or three days camping and getting proper filthy along the beach at Bella Pacifica and then – with sand in every crevasse and our clothes reeking of wood smoke – getting cleaned up for a few days at the world renowned Wickaninnish Inn. It’s a refreshing, invigorating way of taking time off, and it’s not all that much of a journey, especially if you love taking BC Ferries and driving on curvy roads through breathtaking scenery for a couple of hours and a half.
When you arrive, the town has just about everything one could want. There are several kickass restaurants, chief among them The Pointe, Sobo (with whom we have just finished a cookbook for Random House), Tacofino, Spotted Bear, and Shelter. The town has a thing for fresh, local, high quality ingredients, one that we have watched grow over the years from an inherent affection to a proud passion. We get our daily coffee and beer fixes at The Tofitian and the Tofino Brewing Company (latter home to growlers galore and a fantastic little half-pipe for whenever the town’s sweet little skatepark suffers the rain), and very quickly forget our cell phones (Rogers’ service is a 20th century joke in these parts anyway).
All this is to say that we almost always turn right to Tofino when Highway 4 hits the Pacific Ocean, and very seldom left. If we were to turn left, we’d quickly end up in the village of Ucluelet, which – despite a few visits and on account of our own ignorance – has always seemed like the lesser of two awesomes. But since we’re in Tofino for nearly a month of every year with seldom a day of that spent in Ucluelet, we decided on our most recent trip up that it was only right to go left.
Ucluelet might not have the vast expanses of sandy surf beaches like Tofino, but it’s nevertheless comparable in other ways. It has a similarly small population at just under 2,000, basically the same mid 30′s median age, the same love affair with food and drink (albeit with far fewer outlets), a much more challenging skatepark (that bowl section is gnarly!), and accommodations that run the gamut from rustic to world class. We’d been hearing great things about Black Rock Oceanfront Resort, and so made the place our home base for a few days. The accommodations were top drawer, reminding us plenty of those offered at The Wickaninnish Inn. Everything that we sat on or laid down upon was bosom plush, and our suite came with the extra-auditory benefit of a vast seascape crashing into rocks directly in front of us. The only thing that struck as odd about the place was that it wasn’t busy. Granted, we arrived mid-week on out of season dates, but the occupancy appeared to be a little on the light side; a testament, perhaps, to Tofino’s greater appeal.
Because we had so much work to do with the cookbook, we kept to the suite for much of the time, with chef Lisa Ahier of Sobo commuting to us daily from Tofino instead of the other way around. That meant no time indulging in the spa and only an hour a day of shoreline exploration (some interesting finds, including the skeleton of a former sea lion who’d misplaced his skull). We only took breaks to eat, and let me tell you, when you’re dissecting and perfecting recipes for a cookbook all day and night, hunger is often, urgent, and so very debilitating.
We checked out a couple of places in town, namely Ukee Dogs and Hank’s. At the former – a tiny counter service joint with a few picnic tables out front – it was all about comfort foods and Foggy Bean espresso. I’m sure they offered a token salad or two (probably with bacon), but the focus was squarely on big ass hot dogs of varying stripe and decadence. The chalkboard menus were painted onto surfboards and told of daunting wonders, everything from pizza smokies loaded with jalapenos to “logger dogs” filled with banana peppers and onions. They even had a Mac & Cheese dog (and probably a couple of defibrillators under the counter). The latter, Hank’s, was equally a little more refined but equally indulgent, plus they had a liquor license, which is to say I liked it more. The owners, Francois Pilon and Clark Deutscher, are irrepressible beer and BBQ fetishists, smoking their meats in house and offering a good representation of local pours, including a proper cask ale or two. I fell for their pork ribs – so tender and flavourful; some of the best I’d ever had on the island. Our one major regret is that we never were able to slow down enough to take in a proper supper at the well reviewed Norwoods. Alas, next time…
Most of our eating was done at Black Rock, either in the Float Lounge with it’s uncannily pretty bar (its back and ceiling is shaped like a cresting wave) or in the main dining room, which is called Fetch. Both are fronted by the ocean and both get plenty of natural light, but Fetch looks and feels a little more formal and juts out onto the rocks just a little further and so affords better views. It also has a large patio, upon which was what appeared to be a fire pit for outdoor grilling (alas, it wasn’t quite patio weather yet). The lounge suited us well because it offered late night drinks and bites. They plate a really good burger, but food-wise, Fetch was the main attraction.
Chef Louise Pickles and her crew are killing it in Fetch’s kitchen, and that’s saying something considering how hard it is to staff the place. It’s hard enough to attract competent, dedicated kitchen staff in Tofino, let alone Ucluelet (sidebar: if any Vancouver cooks are looking for a different experience and some serious surf, send your resumes to any restaurant hereabouts). I’d heard nothing but really good things about Pickles from a few food writer colleagues and quite a few local chefs (including Lisa, who adores her), but the truth of it was that I’m a doubting arsehole sometimes, made apprehensive by the same ignorance that had always caused me to turn right instead of the left.
I knew Pickles’ bio – that she had been trained at Vancouver’s Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, toiled at Diva At The Met and the shockingly good Sonora Resort (chef Terry Pichor is amazing), and had been part of Fetch’s opening crew under then executive chef Andrew Springett – but it wasn’t until I tucked into one of her basil-licked organic chicken dumplings (maintaining its heat in an intensely flavoured, freshly foraged mushroom consomme) that I appreciated what that meant. It was the same story with the perfectly cooked Coho filet (fresh from “Pacific Provider”) that came resting hot on a warm ragu of mushrooms (twas the season) and toasted quinoa, the lot sauced with quince vinaigrette and decorated with sauteed kale and baby carrots. The technique and presentation were faultless. Even the least sophisticated dish on the menu – a freshly cut pappardelle pasta loaded with slow cooked beef chuck flats from Two Rivers, impactful shards of red pepper, little bombs of confit garlic, and thick slivers of Parmesan cheese – seemed of an elevated elegance, as if every forkful was a sentence in a convincing explanation of how utterly ridiculous it is to ever prejudge the ability of an unknown kitchen. There were fresh oysters that night (from Outlandish, naturally), too, and some sort of chocolate banana pile of deliciousness to close, but what stayed with me (and remains with me) was the lightning strike of that chicken dumpling in the hot consomme. Pow! So good. Also of note were the new offerings from sushi chef Kevin Kimoto. We actually arrived at Black Rock on the day before his rolls were introduced to the menu, so we were happy to be guinea pigs (with a heavy emphasis on “pigs”). His panko-crusted, tempura-battered “blow hole roll” of spicy tuna, tobiko roe, and fruit salsa was outstanding!
We didn’t leave Black Rock all that happy, which is to say that we weren’t happy to leave Black Rock. Or Ucluelet, for that matter. It didn’t have as many varied attractions as Tofino and none of the spark a spliff and stretch your legs beaches, but it shared the same chilled out, down to earth Islander ethos that defines in part what it means to be British Columbian. We left fully aware that our work had cruelly kept us from properly exploring the small town’s immediate environs, but we’re past that already, happy in the knowledge that there will be a next time.
So the next time you come to the highway junction, give it more than just a thought. Give it a day. Better yet, give it two or three or four. And consider doing it sooner rather than later, as the region’s annual food festival, Feast, is underway from now until the end of the month, and every eatery that I’ve mentioned in this story – even the ones in Tofino – are totally on board.
The GOODS from Black Rock
Ucluelet, BC | Black Rock Oceanfront Resort on the West Coast of Vancouver Island is looking for a Banquet Chef. The person for this position should have 1-2 years experience running a similar department or in a similar role. Our wedding season for 2013 is fully booked and will require a Chef to run, organize and manage all aspects of our banquets from ordering and MEP to preparation and plating of all foods under the supervision of the Executive Chef. In the off season this person will also need to help by filling various roles on the a la carte team for Fetch Restaurant and Float Lounge.
This is a very demanding and busy section of our kitchen during the summer season, and requires someone with enthusiasm, high organization skills and above all a passion for cooking good food. The position is available immediately or as soon as possible to allow for some training time before the busy season begins! We live in a small remote community close to the town of Tofino, so having a car is helpful but not necessary. If you are not knowledgeable about this part of the world it would be good to do some research before applying. Further details after the jump… Read more
The GOODS from Black Rock
Ucluelet, BC | The Kitchen Team at Black Rock Oceanfront Resort in Ucluelet British Columbia, is currently seeking passionate, reliable, and experienced cooks for the following positions: Assistant Pastry Chef, applicants should have 1-2 years experience in baking or pastry and be able to work independently to cover the Pastry Chef’s days off. Breakfast / Lunch Cook, should have 1-2 years experience and be able to work independently on a busy station. Multi tasking and organization are essential skills for this position. And finally, our evening a la carte team requires a Tournant, to cover the Entremetier and Garde Manger Stations. This candidate should have experience in a similar environment and have a passion for creating high quality food in a fine dining setting. Read more
The GOODS from Black Rock
Ucluelet, BC | The Kitchen Team at Black Rock Oceanfront Resort, in Ucluelet, is currently seeking an Assistant Pastry Chef. Qualified candidates should have 1-2 years experience in a fine dining atmosphere, and be capable of running the pastry station on the Pastry Chef’s days off with minimal supervision. They should also be driven, organized and detail oriented. The position is available immediately and is full time year round, with benefits to follow after 3 months. If you are interested please call Executive Chef Louise Pickles or Pastry Chef Zoe Jordan at 250-726-4810, or email your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org. Come experience life on the rugged West Coast! Read more
We’ve invited Ucluelet’s stunning Black Rock Oceanfront Resort to join our curated GOODS section as a recommended boutique retreat. They’re now proud members of Scout, and as such we will be posting their news in addition to hosting a page for them on our awesome list of independent goodnesses. We’d like to take this chance to thank them for their support of Scout, and for making BC a much more comfortable place to live.
Adele Larkin- General Manager: email@example.com
Andrew Loiselle- Restaurant Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org
Louise Pickles- Executive Chef: email@example.com
Danielle Stothers: Sales & Marketing Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org
About Black Rock Oceanfront Resort
Escape to the natural tranquility, beauty, and comfort of Black Rock Oceanfront Resort – an extraordinary retreat on Vancouver Island’s rugged west coast. Our magnificent oceanfront resort in Ucluelet, British Columbia, combines contemporary comfort and quality service with the organic energy of the Canada’s western frontier for an enchanting vacation experience.
Featuring Fetch Restaurant and Float Lounge both boasting oceanfront views and artisan inspired West Coast Cuisine. Black Rock Oceanfront Resort offers phenomenal culinary experiences at its ocean side restaurant, patio and lounge. Discover the essence of Vancouver Island’s West Coast as you savor fresh cuisine, Pacific Coast wines and spectacular ocean views. Watch the waves crash endlessly as the sun sets over the pacific ocean, maybe catch a glimpse of a whale on the horizon or hear eagles soaring and smell specially crafted cuisine that delights all the senses. Our menus are carefully designed using locally sourced Vancouver Island seasonal ingredients. Our passion and enduring West Coast spirit results in ever changing menus that will inspire your senses.
Designed with a deep respect for the land and sea, Black Rock’s innovative architecture – of rock, water, glass, steel, and wood – enhances and contrasts the Wild Pacific landscape. Expansive spaces, natural light and breathtaking seaward vistas create a passionate connection to the freedom and serenity of the Vancouver Island’s magical coast and experience true excellence with spectacular accommodations and awe-inspiring views. Black Rock Resort is one of the most stunning destinations on Canada’s wild Pacific coast.
Tofino’s little sister Ucluelet has just seen the arrival of the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort. Only a few days old, the hotel offers 71 rooms in the main lodge and another 61 Beach Suites ($135 a night and up). In other words, it’s a major development that will likely rival the very best properties on Vancouver Island, going toe-to-toe with such Tofino properties as The Wickaninnish and the Long Beach Lodge (two of my favourite retreats).
I’ll be going to check it out as soon as I can, knowing that the trick up their sleeve is one Andrew Springett, the talented chef who once toiled at La Belle Auberge and Diva at the Met before he moved to Tofino to run the kitchen (to great critical acclaim) at The Wick from 2003 to 2007. It looks like they’re taking the food and beverage program mighty seriously, too.
From the website:
Enjoy an artisan inspired culinary experience at Fetch, our 90-seat oceanfront restaurant. Dine on our patio overlooking the active surge channel and Wild Pacific Trail or stay indoors; every seat has a spectacular view of the surrounding rocky headlands. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all menus have local themes and are carefully crafted to perfection by our professional culinary team, lead by Executive Chef Andrew Springett. Fetch is an oceanography term referring to the distance a constant wind blows across a body of water for the generation of waves. The longer the fetch length or distance, the higher energy the waves.
Cozy up to the fireplace with house inspired cocktails and beverages in our 50 seat Float Lounge, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the open ocean. Watch waves continually crash on the rocky shoreline from the comfort of your seat under the remarkable wave inspired bar- no wetsuit required. Enjoy items from our custom designed menu specially created for sharing with friends over warm conversation. Surrounded by nature and West Coast beauty, you’ll find a welcoming, contemporary atmosphere awaits you at Float.
The signature feature of Black Rock Resort is the dramatic Wine Cellar looking inside the active surge channel with exploding waves and surrounding coastal features. The Wine Cellar showcases a variety of Pacific Coast region wines, and is the ideal location for a meeting, small reception or event under 60 people. Wine tastings & pairings, chef’s table and custom private dinners, just to name a few, will be available in this impressive location.
Andrew Morrison is a west coast boy who studied history and classics at the Universities of Cape Town and Toronto after an adolescence spent riding skateboards and working in restaurants. He is the editor of Scout Magazine, the weekly food and restaurant columnist for the Westender newspaper, a contributor to Vancouver and Western Living magazines, and a proud board member of the Chef’s Table Society of BC. He lives and works by the beach in Vancouver.