– Words by Tess Van Straaten Photography by Don Denton
I can smell the woodsy, campfire-like aroma well before I see executive chef Peter Kim coming out of the kitchen at FATHOM—one of Victoria’s most exciting new restaurants. He’s carrying what looks like a large glass ball filled with smoke and a bed of shells, stones and moss cradling my appetizer and invoking the ocean and forests of Vancouver Island.
“It not only gives the show aspect, it also gives a nice, very pleasant taste with the grilled bread, and the hickory goes very well with the beef tartare,” Peter says, smoke wafting out as he removes the sourdough bread from the top of the beef tartare smoke bowl.
It’s my first taste of what the Hotel Grand Pacific’s new restaurant, which opened earlier this year, has to offer. Decorated in muted greys and greens and a deep, sea blue with gold accents, FATHOM’s décor and menu are inspired by the ocean—just like this Inner Harbour restaurant’s name.
“A fathom is a unit of measurement for how deep below the sea you’re getting, and we’re a seafood-centric restaurant. So, the idea for the design is that it goes from lighter to darker, like the ocean, and as you get into the lounge, you’re exploring the depths of the sea,” explains Hotel Grand Pacific marketing guru Becca Penner.
I decide to dive right in, sampling the sweet and juicy scallops served on a spring pea risotto with ginger scallop mousse and accented with an edible shell hand-crafted from phyllo dough and pressed against an actual scallop shell to make the perfect impression.
“We have to tell people it isn’t an actual shell or they won’t eat it!” Peter says with a laugh.
Peter came to the hotel from Vancouver almost a year and a half ago after working in some of the city’s top hotels and eateries. He’s also worked throughout the Pacific Rim, including San Francisco, Singapore and Australia. He says his inspiration for FATHOM was to create dishes that are unique and sustainable.
“When someone asks me what the concept of our menu is, I joke that it’s something I would love to eat. But we want something that will be well-received by locals and also very sustainable—something that is ethically grown and sourced and harvested,” Peter explains. “I think it’s also the responsibility of chefs and the people in the industry to showcase items—both in how they’re created and how they’re presented—to bring out the best flavours.”
My next dish, a delicious chicken karaage, packs a flavour-packed punch with some heat, some crunch from crushed cashews, and just the right amount of crispy coating for a unique take on Japanese fried chicken.
“It’s a little twist with the Korean version,” Peter says. “While we marinade it in the traditional Japanese style, we toss it with the gochujang glaze, so it gets a nice balance of the heat, but a lot of taste with the ginger and garlic.”
It’s already a huge hit among staff and patrons, but Peter says his absolute favourite item on the menu is the sablefish, which is served with a kabayaki glaze and a house-made prawn cake with a cauliflower puree and nori sand.
“It is a dish I’d collaborated on with chefs I worked with in Vancouver, but I’ve added my own twist to it with a little bit of Korean in there and a little bit of Japanese fusion as well,” he says. “I think it’s something that’s really unique in the food scene here in Victoria.”
Taking my first bite of the sablefish, I experience layers of flavour. It almost has a deep smokiness to it. I can see why Peter loves it, but he says there’s no such thing as perfection.
“If we say our menu is perfect, our restaurant is perfect, our team is perfect, then there’s no room for growth and there’s no more room for creativity,” he explains. “We’re continuously evolving and looking to create new seasonal dishes to use what the harvesters, growers and forager who we work with provide, and make something that is edible as well as beautiful to the eye.”
FATHOM’s new hand-crafted cocktail menu is also taking its inspiration from the sea, with the help of brand and beverage consultant Soren Schepkowski.
“We’re going to go with the fathom idea, separating the cocktails into different zones: so, the sunlight zone, the twilight zone, the midnight zone, the trenches and the abyss, depending on how adventurous you want to be,” Becca explains. “The deeper down, the more spirit-forward, heavy flavours there are. Whereas at the top, in the sunlight zone, they’re lighter and more approachable.”
I decided to splash down past the lighter zones to midnight for a cocktail called Don’t Say Rabbit, which is like a black Manhattan. A smooth sipper, it’s made with Jura 12 Whisky—one of the 160-plus whisky options on the menu. FATHOM is also working with Devine Distillery on the Saanich Peninsula to create its own house whisky.
“Our goal now is to become a local hot spot and more of a go-to spot for locals, especially people in the foodie community, as well as a must-do for tourists,” Becca says.
As I decide to have one last piece of the chicken karaage, I know I’ll be back for more.