– Story by Joseph Blake Photography by Don Denton
Every month for the last few years when my old kayak partner comes down from his Cobble Hill farm for a visit, we’ve eaten lunch at dozens of local bistros. We’ve grazed the food scene and eaten at places when they’ve just opened their business or expanded, renovated, or changed chefs. I’ve also written about local restaurants for two decades and these are my five favourite lunch spots in Oak Bay.
Charelli’s Cheese Shop and Delicatessen is one of my favourite places in Oak Bay. I’d visit the tiny, overflowing, European-style Charelli’s just for the rich, cheese aroma of the shop — let alone the great customer service, delicious samples, and mouth-watering sandwiches. Monthly cheese-tasting on Saturday afternoons are linked to the store’s Cheese of the Month Club offerings. But it doesn’t stop there. Wine tasting events after hours (hosted by sommelier Ernest Sargent) and what staff and regulars call the best breakfast sandwich in town (I agree!) have also been bringing the faithful to Charelli’s since 2003.
Some minor expansions mean there’s a take-out kitchen serving up soup and sandwiches Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and more delicious sandwiches Tuesday through Thursday served from 10 a.m. until they run out of fresh baguette.
Up to five people work the store’s narrow confines and counter on the weekend and they are smart and passionate about food. Cheese, smoked and cured meat, condiments, sauces, specialized hardware, books and even bartending supplies — this Foodie find has it all.
Both my kayak partner and I love Japanese food, so Bon Sushi is one of our go-to lunch spots in Oak Bay. I almost always choose the sashimi bento with salmon, tuna and other raw fish, dynamite roll, seaweed salad and miso soup. We’ve also tried Bon Sushi’s udon bento with beef or chicken teriyaki, and tempura bento. All are delicious but I always go back to my favourite bento box. The little restaurant’s tiny kitchen also turns out excellent Agedashi tofu, various noodle dishes, and an array of delicious, special fusion rolls like the dragon roll, crunch roll and the spicy TNT roll.
Chef Jun Shinn is the son of the owner who bought the restaurant seven years ago. In early spring, Bon Sushi underwent a minor renovation with new, darker gray walls that warm the bright space featuring cool jazz background music. Small tables on the patio overlooking Hampshire Road, Athlone Court and Oak Bay Village are just another plus for this thriving, 28-seat, family-oriented business.
Jay and Quinn Forsythe renovated and reopened Windsor Cafe a little over a year ago after managing Lemongrass, Jay’s family’s Cadboro Bay restaurant. The young couple has figured out that the 1934-built space, with Quinn’s father’s paintings on the wall and big windows looking out on Windsor Park, is best suited as a breakfast-lunch spot. No more dinners. Salvaged, scorched Cedar milled into benches, tables, the bar and signage warm a bright, light trio of rooms on three floors.
I often eat on the patio and I was happy to see prawn scampi and chorizo mussels still on the new, spring-summer menu when I revisited the cafe in April. I look forward to trying a couple of new menu items, including Madeira rigatoni, cavatappi pasta and smoked gruyere cheese. With draft Hoyne Dark Matter, Phillips Blue Buck, mimosas, Caesars and VQA house reds and whites, Windsor Cafe is the perfect place for a drink and a nosh or just a coffee and pastry.
Demitasse Café, Kitchen & Garden Centre is very near my home and just a short walk for a double cappuccino and chocolate croissant. Besides being a welcoming space to grab a morning, custom-roasted coffee and pastry, the Demi is also a hangout for the local, commercial gardening community and the parking surrounding the business is packed with landscapers’ trucks during lunch.
Chefs produce burgers, sandwiches, wraps, soups, and a very creative combination of pizza by the slice to eat in the garden or at a handful of tables inside. Everything is made with locally-sourced produce that’s often organic.
The Demitasse Garden Centre wraps around the outside of the building and offers rare and unusual plants and trees, as well as providing home garden design and garden renovation service. It’s a truly unique and wonderful Foodie find in Oak Bay.
Ottavio Italian Bakery & Delicatessen is a convivial community hub. Head baker Cam McCaw has been at Ottavio for a decade and he makes the best croissants in town but this hot spot might be most famous for its cheese.
“Our focus is cheese,” says general manager Genevieve LaPlante, listing special events like the ‘The Big Cheese Cut’, ‘Festa Italiano’ and last year’s ‘Saturday in France’.
“In early fall we’re planning a Blue Cheese Festival with samples from some of the 20 kinds of blue cheese we carry.”
I love Ottavio’s Italian-style Illy Coffee, their panini sandwiches, and local-sourced fresh salads and soups. The menu offers a healthy lunch rationale for a dessert cone of Ottavio’s in-house, Italian-style gelato made with organic milk and local fruit and berries.
It’s also a consistent source for quality products such as Amoliva Olive Oil — a premium product masterfully produced on the Tuscan property of a couple from Oak Bay.