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Voracious: seafood shines in Bouillabaisse at Ferris’ Upstairs

Allan Reid’s restaurant column
The Bouillabaisse is a seafood stew featuring mussels, clams, prawns, halibut and trout served in a light tomato-fennel broth with saffron aioli and sprinkled with microgreens. (Allan Reid)

I have been enjoying Ferris’ for at least two decades, back when there was only Ferris’ Oyster Bar and Grill, then located where Ferris’ Grill and Garden Patio is today. That name changed when Ferris’ Upstairs opened in the fall of 2005. Downstairs, I always snagged the window table upfront, if it was available, where I’d dine alone or with friends, enjoying flavour-rich burgers with legendary yam fries, or plates of oysters served with a trio, as I recall, of mignonettes (light vinegar sauces to brighten the flavour of the oysters). Eventually the oysters and all things seafood moved Upstairs.

It is a long climb up a steep and narrow staircase to the upper restaurant. A very real impediment for some, but do not despair, for there is a secret elevator accessible down the long hallway through the narrow entry to Perro Negro, Ferris’ tapas and wine bar, which is right next door. Exit the elevator, turn left, and then go through the blank white door immediately on your right to access the Seafood and Oyster Bar.

Ferris' in Victoria is a seafood restaurant and oyster bar located at 536 Yates St. (Allan Reid)

I arrived with out-of-town guests, eager to sample the local seafood, and who put me on the spot, as a regular reviewer of restaurants, to sate their desire. I chose Ferris’ Upstairs because it offers a wide selection of seafood all claiming top billing on the menu. Oysters, clams, scallops, prawns, squid, tuna, trout, salmon, black cod and halibut are all featured dishes.

Unfortunately, my guests’ eagerness did not extend to the Fresh Shucked Oysters ($3.50 ea.). I understand the aversion to sliding something cold, raw and slimy down one’s throat until you do. “Do you bite it at all?” I was asked. Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but yes, I do. I want to savour that flavour, not toss it down untasted. As no one else would join me, I ordered two for myself. They came served on the half shell, on ice, and accompanied with a mignonette, a small wedge of lemon, and some finely diced red onion, all of which I could add according to my taste. Now these were Fanny Bay oysters, ocean grown just two-and-a-half hours up the island’s east coast. They were smaller than some Fanny Bays I’ve had in the past, but they had a firm texture and a refreshing, lemonade-of-the-sea type of flavour – tangy, oceany, but not fishy. Good indications that they were very fresh.

For my main, I ordered the Bouillabaisse ($31). This is a seafood stew featuring mussels, clams, prawns, halibut and trout served in a light tomato-fennel broth with saffron aioli and sprinkled with microgreens; a slender slice of artisan bread and a lemon wedge finish the bowl. The bowl is aromatic and the seafood is plentiful with large chunks of white-fleshed halibut and orange-fleshed trout. The prawns are shelled and deveined but with tails remaining; the shellfish remain in their open shells. Bouillabaisse, and its Italian version, Cioppino, are a seafood lover’s paradise. Ferris’ version wants that seafood to shine. The other flavours, mostly in the broth, support and accentuate, but they do not overpower the delicate fish and shellfish flavours. Still, you will want to finish every drop of that broth.

Ferris’ upstairs is brighter than their Grill and Garden Patio sibling downstairs, thanks to three large windows up front and more at the back. A high raftered ceiling rises above century-old brick walls and lots of well-aged wood. The walls are hung with Canadiana artwork, sometimes mildly humorous. It is a relaxing, casual, unhurried atmosphere. And I enjoying it, still. A Victoria classic.

Ferris’ Upstairs Seafood and Oyster Bar 536 Yates Street | 250 360 1824 |

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