Victoria Food Culture at the top – ULLA Restaurant

ULLA Restaurant Victoria on FisgardWhen a great restaurant opens, there is one big mistake that a diner can make – and that is…

Not getting there early – that is, when the place first opens… Well, it can be problematic.

Because as time passes, the legend (and reputation) of the restaurant develops and with that, your expectations – particularly on your first visit.

And so you know, this is not quite like taking your first trip to San Francisco or the Napa or Sonoma Valley and picking out some established places – which are probably guaranteed to be good based on “travel expectations”. Which is another phenomenon entirely… Not like that at all.

So. ULLA. It has been open over a year (maybe 1.5 years…) and the reviews have been stunning. Apparently it has achieved a coveted Top-10 Enroute rating from Air Canada… OK. Checked the link. Yes it has. Impressive.

We booked a week or so in advance because this place tends to be busy – because of its reputation. And we landed on a very, very blustery Wet Coast Victoria evening while thousands of folks were without power, Ferry boats were docked and flights grounded. Consequently, there were a few cancellations at ULLA. No problem.

The room has a comfortable and warm feeling to it – we received a very friendly greeting at the door with an offer to take our coats – We were dining with another couple who had never been there – they were seated and giddy with excitement.
Menu’s and wine list immediately in hand we were given plenty of time to mull over the adult beverage selection and ask any preemptive questions about the menu or the ULLA concept.

Within a few minutes we had glasses of wine in hand and were quickly zeroing in on appetizers and mains.
Andrea had the 63 degree soft poached Egg on a brioche, with chanterelles, cipollini onions, black garlic jus, and parmesan. Well presented but kind of a single note item – like it was missing something extra on the plate to offer contrast.
Please note that Andrea’s palette is way more advanced than mine – in short, she is a super-taster and can pull flavors off of the plate and scents out of the air that a bloodhound would miss. It is an amazing talent to see at work.
Our couple friends (much to my chagrin) ordered two of the same appetizers; Escargot… 6 on the plate with lots of drizzle flourishes.
Note: These were not just ordinary snails – they were basil fed snails.
Yup. Not kidding.
Our friends thought they were yummy, that there was not a lot of snail on the plate and that it was more art than substance. Not a nit pick folks, just an observations.

My appetizer: Edremit, gemlik, castelvetrano and picholine.

Any ideas folks?

Olives. For whatever reason, I ordered a bowl of olives to nibble on. I love olives and these were all very tasty, different and appetizing.

Mains: Here was one of those times where I felt like smacking my friends on the head.
Andrea, Steve and Sharon had the pork tenderloin…
Still meadow farm pork loin, braised cabbage, Potato roesti (hash brown), celery root, bacon, cheddar, apple, gastrique (Gastrique is caramelized sugar, deglazed with vinegar, used as a flavoring for sauces…)

The pork was perfectly prepared and presented on the three plates – a veritable art gallery of small items to taste and enjoy.

I had the halibut cheeks on a bed of beluga lentils and roast sugared almonds, tents of steamed spinach and grilled baby cauliflower caps. The cheeks were slightly overdone and watery but everything else was dreamy and perfect. I could have eaten a plate of the lentils and almonds. The baby cauliflower was sublime.

ULLA is artistry pushed to the limit. Service is polished, at the ready and entirely unobtrusive. When we had questions, there were instant answers.
It’s entirely possible that someone with unrealistic expectations would be disappointed here. For me, any minor flubs in the kitchen are made up in superlative service and understanding of the product.

For me, any overall criticism would be: ULLA is a very serious restaurant. It is not a fun restaurant. There is a ton of passion and prowess here – but it is not a place where you raise glass after glass of wine hooting and hollering with joy. The food is art and ULLA is a food art gallery. And you know what they say about Art Galleries – they are repositories of brilliant works where you hold your voice down in quiet humility while you appreciate the artistic efforts of… well… artists.

If you love food, art and art galleries, you will love ULLA. But don’t be too noisy about it. Out of 10 points per, I would rate the food at 8.5 – Service 9.5 – Presentation 9.5

Colin Newell is a Victoria area resident, food and coffee lover – and occasional writer for EAT Magazine…