A classy decor awaits at Zambri’s in the Atrium Building on Yates Street, but don’t try to get in through the lobby. Facebook

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Downtown treasure offers quality, from pizza on up

Interesting and creative lunch menu satisfies at Zambri’s, writes Allan Reid

Zambri’s islocated off the spectacular Atrium Building (BC Ferries). This atrium within the Atrium is a gem in this city, with warm honeyed wood, lots of calming curving lines, novel places to sit, greenery, and a small collection of some of Victoria’s highest quality retailers and services, including Habit Coffee, Poppies Florist, the tradition inspired Victory Barber Shop, Jugo Juice and Cook Culture.

Allan Reid, Monday restauarant reviewer

But alas, one cannot enter Zambri’s this way. The entrance is here, I am tantalized by patrons seen dining and conversing through the glass, but the way is chained off. A pity, for Zambri’s belongs within this community of excellence: it should be the star among stars.

Instead one must walk outside, all the way down to the sidewalk, up Yates a few dozen metres and enter by a much less obvious side door. People with mobility issues can enter through a gate near the Atrium entrance and cross a level patio space to that same side entrance, thus avoiding stairs, but I imagine that later in the season when that patio gets busy, that route will become crowded.

Having found the door, Jo, one of Zambri’s three owners, sat me soon enough. I was there for a business lunch and had a reservation. Without a reservation, I would not have been seated, for the group of five ahead of me took the last available table, and were assigned a time limit on their stay. Zambri’s is one of Victoria’s most talked-about restaurants, among the brightest stars in this city’s culinary constellation: it is popular so plan ahead.

The room is a long L-shaped space around a full bar that features Zambri’s impressive library of Italian-only wines on clear display. The colours in the room are dark but lustrous, copper and gold, but the space is brilliantly lit by a long bank of windows that look out onto Yates Street and wrap around into the atrium.

The fare is Italian and the lunch menu is structured in a loose Italian style: Soups (led by minestrone, of course) and Salads, Primi, Pizze, Secondi and Sandwiches. Ruby, a Zambri’s adherent, ordered her favourite, the Insalata Nizzard, which is served strewn along a long rectangular plate. Smoked tuna, a perfect hard-boiled egg halved, cannellini beans, olives, capers and fresh greens come drizzled in a house dressing.

I was sorely tempted, but not wanting to copy, I opted instead for the Daily Duo. Monday to Friday, each day offers a different special paired with a small salad. I visited on a Tuesday, which is pizza day. Green leeks added a sweet counterpoint to the rich and savoury lamb ragu and asiago cheese. The crust was thin but soft and airy, ballooning nicely to create a substantial but feather-light rim.

Zambri’s Hawaiian pizza.

Don opted for a pizza from the standard menu of eight mostly classic Italian pizzas. I say mostly classic, for they all have a twist. The Queen, for instance, is Zambri’s version of the storied original pizza, the Margarita: tomato, mozzarella and basil. Chef Peter adds fior de latte, a soft mozzarella-like cheese, in addition to the usual mozzarella.

But Don chose the only non-Italian pizza on the menu: the very Canadian Hawaiian. Zambri’s adds smoked Caciocavallo cheese, rosemary and a few rings of jalapeño peppers to the obligatory ham and pineapple on tomato sauce. I had to try and we shared samples. The Caciocavallo and rosemary added dimension, but I particularly appreciated the twinge of jalapeño spiciness in contrast to the sweet pineapple.

Zambri’s food is familiar, unusual and pleasing.

Zambri’s, 820 Yates St.

250-360-1171 zambris.ca

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