Success is not guaranteed by a good location. Success-oriented products and services and a pleasant vibe make the difference between middling success and something better.
The Flying Otter floats next to Victoria’s new Inner Harbour Airport terminal and features a close-hand view of the de Havilland Otter float planes, from which it takes its name. Victoria’s Inner Harbour is one of the busiest seaplane airports in North America.
I think of these planes as Victoria cilantro: people either love them or hate them, but they can’t be removed from the salsa without affecting Victoria’s charm. I love the spending a lunch hour (or so) on the patio of the Flying Otter watching the seaplanes coming and going, loading or unloading, drawn against the dock by dockworkers working with hand and rope. The same dockworkers who remove luggage from the planes’ pontoons and lend hands to passengers’ stepping down.
On a beautiful sunny summer day, I feel like a tourist experiencing something fresh and new, no matter how many times I’ve been there before. But this is winter, and for the first time, I am experiencing the Otter by night.
We reserved a table on the patio. Despite the winter chill, and a high wind warning issued by Environment Canada, the patio was warm and comfortable. Lower glass and thick upper transparent plastic sheets keep out the wind, while overhead gas heaters keep patrons toasty: sometimes a bit too toasty. The airport, closed for the day, is quiet.
Across the Inner Harbour, the Gatsby Manor and Huntington House are both outlined with strings of white lights that reflected in the harbour, dancing on the ripples. The low perspective, the dock just inches above the water, creates a strong sense of being part of the scene.
The Flying Otter provides good food at reasonable prices in a casual, pub-style atmosphere. I’m a big fan of the Seafood Paella. But they also participate in the Dine Around and Stay in Town initiative of Tourism Victoria and the BC Restaurant and Food Association (BCRFA). Each participating restaurant offers fixed price menus at $20, $30, $40, or $50 per person.
The Flying Otter offers just one menu at $30. The menu has three courses: a starter, a main and a desert. I chose to start with a Stilton spinach salad, followed by a Seafood Bouillabaisse, and then a Fruit and Cheese Plate. As the kitchen had run out of Stilton, I was offered a cranberry goat cheese instead, which I accepted. The salad was moderately sized and included candied pecans in addition to the spinach and cheese. It was finished with just enough herbal vinaigrette to notice its tang. I am always dismayed when served a salad drenched in dressing. Please, Caesar and Wedge salads excepted, the salad should be the point.
The bouillabaisse was founded on a flavourful tomato based Saffron and Fennel “Fumet” (stock) with generous sized pieces of Salmon, Halibut and Cod, Clams and Muscles in their shells, Prawns with their tails attached and halved potatoes. Kudos for keeping the potatoes intact, which kept the “Fumet” from becoming starchy. A long angled slice of baguette, lightly toasted lay across the rim of the bowl. I chose not to eat the potato and baguette because I was already filling up and needed room for the final course.
I’m glad I did, for the fruit and cheese plate was not fit for the faint of appetite. A ball of Goat Cheese with three Crostinis and a small pile of Figs I ate together. These would have been sufficient to end a meal on a light note, but the plate also included a substantial wedge of Brie, two fingers of Gruyere, a cluster of red grapes and thinly sliced—and fanned—Apple and Sangria-Poached Pear. The pear was heavenly. The Otter is always busy, so I recommend reservations, especially if a table on the patio is desired.
The Flying Otter Grille’s location is certainly a draw, but it is the taste and quality of the food served in a friendly and casual atmosphere appropriate to its side-of-an-airport location that are the secret of its success.