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.