In any city, there are the old stand-by restaurants. Here in Victoria, that means The Harbour House.
Last night I’d reached the end of my work-at-home rope and decided that I’d sooner sacrifice a newborn than cook myself dinner. I was about to order some Chinese delivery when I remembered it was Dine Around Victoria.
I looked at James Bay’s offerings and Lamb Osso Bucco on a rainy night struck my fancy, so I committed to visiting Harbour House after a relaxing bath and a little gussying up.
For $20, I had a house salad, Lamb Osso Bucco, and chocolate mousse. I felt like I was in the 1980s again. It has that feel there. Oil lamps, tablecloths, and waiters in what I describe as “bad high-school prom tuxes,” all give you a feeling of it being 1983. They have a sign by the door, “We dress up so you don’t have to,” but it still feels dated.
But that’s okay. It was quaint and nice. It was quiet. Opera played in the background at a faint level, people were talking, the buzz was there. The place was packed, and the clientele was decidedly older, as I expected.
The salad was nice. The lamb was tender and came off the bone. The veggies with my meal were clearly done in the butter/sugar old-school method, but there were a lot of them and they were properly cooked. The chocolate mousse was decadent and tasty, and I couldn’t finish it. The buns they serve were clearly the old commercial par-baked “scissor rolls” one bakes-and-serves that we saw everywhere in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I enjoyed the buns for the nostalgia factor, but I’ve been around the artisanal block enough to know the difference.
My waiter was a nice guy but he was flustered and it showed when he failed to ask how I enjoyed my meal, and that’s always a bit of a blow for me, since I think it’s rule number one in serving. I also wasn’t asked if I needed anything else, another service blow. He was prompt, though, and apologetic when he forgot my water.
He also suggested nice wine, BC’s Red Rooster Merlot. It played very nicely with my lamb.
I knew what I was getting into when I went to the Harbour House. I expected a timewarp. I wanted old-school. I wanted a throwback to the “fine dining” of my youth. I would’ve loved to justify a $40 Dine Around meal with the filet mignon, but my wallet would’ve protested loudly.
I got what I expected. The food is perfect if you’re looking for that era. The service is probably great when they’re not packed for a full seating three meals back-to-back on a weeknight, but that’s the risk we run during deal phases with Dine Out Victoria.
I’m glad I went. The lamb was close to worth the price alone, so I still feel like I had a deal, and it was close enough for walking.
I’d give it 3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars, for what it was — a throwback to another time.
Who: Harbour House
Where: 607 Oswego Street, just off the Inner Harbour
What: Lobster, steak, and other classics of the ’80s and ’90s dining scene