A feast for the senses
How an unassuming Canadian village went from hippy to hip thanks to a buzzing, surfer-friendly food scene
The tiny village of Tofino on Vancouver Island is not the easiest place to get to. It is set at the southern end of Clayoquot Sound and surrounded by sandy beaches flanked with rocky outcrops and forests of cedar and fir. Its boho character was defined by the hippies, artists and wood carvers who moved there in the 1960s. It was subsequently settled by surfers (who swell its 1,700-person population each summer) and has recently begun to appeal to another sort of traveller - one drawn to the natural riches of its grassroots food scene.
Tofino's gourmet focus began 15 years ago with the opening of the smart Pointe restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn, an elegant Relais & Châteaux hotel where folk feast on local cod witha romesco crumble while overlooking the roaring Pacific Ocean. With the surfers came stylish, laid-back restaurants such as Shelter, where you might order beautifully aged, organic ribeye with mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, pickled shallots and red-wine jus, and Sobo, famous for its fish tacos topped with ripe tropical fruit.
Clued-up food lovers can actually find a disproportionate number of excellent restaurants in a three-street radius. At the buzzy, French-inspired Spotted Bear Bistro, mussels and clams are cooked in a heady stock. And showing support for Tofino terroir, the local coffee roaster has teamed up with the microbrewery to create a coffee-infused beer. Two new oyster bars will also openthis autumn in time for the annual Clayoquot Oyster Festival.
Of course, no foodie scene is complete without festivals (there are now two a year) or a food-truck movement. Here, the Baja-inspired Tacofino, serving albacore-tuna tacos with seaweed salad and wasabi mayo, is so popular it has opened a permanent restaurant in Vancouver. On the same plot is the Wildside Grill, specialising in just-caught seafood such as succulent halibut and chips with apple slaw, and a smoky gumbo stew.
By Rosie Birkett. Published in Condé Nast Traveller October 2013
Pictured: pork buns from Pointe