When it comes to eating in downtown Victoria, you’ve got a lot to choose from! There are sit down casual restaurants and pubs, more expensive and elaborate diners, fast food joints and now we’re even seeing food trucks here and there. After a stroll in town this past Saturday, my partner and I decided to try out Darcy’s Pub, right in the inner harbour.
It definitely was not a patio type of day, so we opted to sit inside, at one of the front windows so that we could still enjoy the ocean view. We were greeted upon arrival by a number of the staff inside, which is always a good indicator of how the meal is going to turn out. We were presented with two menus. The first was their regular pub fare menu and the second was a “fresh” menu the pub prepares every weekend, that takes advantage of the fresh seafood, produce and meats available during that season. We ordered waters to start and dove into the menus to see what jumped out at us.
One of the first things that struck me was the reasonable prices on both menus. The regular menu did not have an item that wasn’t more than $6 or $8 (with the exception of options to substitute French fries for a Caesar salad, etc.) Even the fresh menu was priced well, with the most expensive dish priced at $12! For downtown eating we could not complain about the cost for a sit down meal, and couldn’t think of an alternative that was as cost efficient. (These days we are pinching our pennies, just like everyone else!)
After ordering I gave a heads up to our server that we were local foodies and were potentially writing a review on our experience at the pub. We were then greeted by Scott Gurney, the general manager, who gave us kind of a low-down of the pub, where it came from and where it’s going. They have had the opportunity of working with two great chefs over the past several years and both have focused on bringing up the quality of the food served, without pretending the food and the pub is something they are not, while still retaining a pub feel with genuine pub fare. He spoke passionately about the pub, the food and was truly genuine in wanting not only myself and my partner, but everyone that walks in the door to enjoy the experience – a casual, laid back pub, with a musical theme and local beer that gets you coming back, again and again.
The atmosphere was great. It was totally casual, with rustic tables and chairs, enough lighting inside but tons of big windows that allowed the natural light of the day to spill throughout the pub. As with many pubs there were posters advertising different events in the pub and the walls hung images of iconic rock artists. There was no denying Darcy’s is a pub, with a huge pull down screen for hockey nights and a big bar to server yourself a cold beer.
We decided that to start we wanted to share an appetizer and went with Darcy’s house-made meatballs. I’m not typically a big fan of meatballs because I find them often to be quite dry and not overly flavourful, but these meatballs were different… With a recipe developed by the owner of the pub, you’ve got to expect some serious deliciousness, and these meatballs delivered! The meat (beef and pork) was combined with herbs, ricotta cheese and pine nuts, which gave an almost chunky texture that was not typical and surprising but good. The cheese ensured moisture throughout, avoiding my fear of dryness. Topped with a marinara sauce and cheese, this dish was a great start to our pub lunch.
To cover our bases I ordered something off the regular pub menu and my partner ordered something off of the fresh menu. I went with the Juarez beef burrito, and a side of fresh cut Kennebec fries, because if a pub cannot make good French fries, there is a problem! He went with the prawn carbonara. Once we’d ordered our entrees, I asked whether Darcy’s had a more signature drink. Scott, the GM, admitted that there wasn’t much of a signature drink, but that they were very proud of their house made sangria, which Scott recommended checking out. We ordered two!
We were able to enjoy our sangrias for a bit before our entrees came and they were tasty. Made with a mix of red wine, liqueurs and juices, then topped with soda and sprite, along with a wedge of lemon and a wedge of lime, it was good, but seemed like something was missing. We couldn’t really put our finger specifically on what the missing element was, but thought that it either needed something a little bit more sweet to punch up the flavour, or perhaps we needed to squeeze more of the lemon/lime juice in? Not sure. Wasn’t bad but wasn’t the best I’d had. I think it is worth a second try another time.
When our entrees arrived I was impressed with how nicely they were presented. My burrito was plated on a rectangular dish with a bowl of the French fries beside it and the prawn carbonara looked beautiful. (Let’s be honest though, they weren’t so nice looking that we didn’t want to dig in and get eating!) I tried the French fries first, because that was the make or break it for me. They were amazing. Cooked perfectly with a great crunch, skins on and cut rough and rustically. These fries were everything that makes French fries perfect in my world. Not only that, but I dipped into the ketchup which just so happened NOT to be the big brand name everyone tends to use. I hate that stuff, so tasting an alternative was a pleasant surprise. One of the most appealing things about the burrito was that it was wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla. So often I go out and want to have a wrap or burrito, but opt to get something else because I don’t want to eat the white tortilla. Kudos for whole wheat! The burrito itself was great. It contained ground beef that was seasoned well, refried beans, rice, tomatoes and cheese. It was topped with salsa, sour cream and fresh cilantro and I choose to get guacamole on the side for an additional $1 charge. I’ll be honest, the guacamole did nothing for me, but without the fresh cilantro, this burrito would not have won my heart. It was the perfect complement to the smoky flavours of the meat inside. It was, however, a little dense, and so my only negative is that it could have used more tomato or even some lettuce to lighten it a bit. Other than that, it was flavourful, aromatic and definitely satisfying! (I had to take at least half of it home with me to finish later…)
We were really impressed when the prawn carbonara was set down on the table. As you can see from the photo, it was beautiful! There were a decent number of prawns and the aroma was enticing. My partner dove into the dish and was really happy overall. The prawns were cooked to perfection (which isn’t always the case) and the creamy carbonara sauce was delicious and seasoned quite well. The pasta was cooked nicely, however, nothing was really hot which was kind of a disappointment. It was still flavourful and satisfying (I can attest to this as I had to have a taste test!!!), but had it been hot, the prawn carbonara may have stolen the spotlight.
The whole lunch overall was fabulous. The service was incredibly friendly and each time a new customer came through the front door they were greeted with a happy hello. (These are the little things that I notice and make a big impact on whether or not I make a second trip anywhere.) The management seemed passionate and genuine about being in the food and drink industry, which is huge, as an eatery without proper management and authority is a recipe for disaster. The atmosphere was great and the view of the harbour is invaluable. Next we’ll have to check out the night life at Darcy’s Pub, because we’ve heard it too is quite the adventure!