It’s a brisk December day in Victoria, and as I stroll down Swift St. towards the destination of today’s visit — the new location of Fishhook at Mermaid’s Wharf — I can’t help but admire the beauty of my surroundings. To my right sits Canoe Brewpub, a local craft beer institution known for its deep selection of on-tap suds, but the real jewel of this area is the view of the harbour. After taking a moment to appreciate the neatly manicured island of trees and energy of passersby out for a morning stroll on the boardwalk, I gather my team and head for the front door.
The visionary behind the seaside staple Red Fish Blue Fish and the Fort St eatery Fishhook, Chef Kunal Ghose has decided to take things in a slightly different direction with this new concept. Premised on combining the Indian flavours of his father’s heritage with French cooking techniques and Oceanwise-certified seafood, the new location of Fishhook brings the communality back to eating with share platters served up family style.
As I enter the front doors, which feel more like the hatches of a ship thanks to the porthole windows, the first thing I notice is the sheer size of the room. With 25-foot ceilings and seats for up to 150 people, the space is a serious step-up from Fishhook’s cozy Fort St location.
On one side of the room, a tropical garden peppered with ocean memorabilia is suspended from a ledge 10 feet above the entrance to the kitchen. A long wooden bar with a cream-coloured stone countertop sits directly across, where our host for the day — Katy Green — mixes up one of Fishhook’s signature salmon jerky caesars for us.
Grabbing a table at the banquette on the lower of two seating areas, Chef Kunal pops out from the kitchen to say hello, bringing with him the day’s Mermaid Thali share plate – a seafood charcuterie board consisting of candied salmonaisse, wild shrimp harissa, house-pickled vegetables, lemony baguette, and an assortment of cured, hot-smoked, and cold-smoked fish. As Kunal explains, all the preserved fish comes straight from his business partner Steve Kerr’s Qualicum Beach smokehouse, Smokemasters Gourmet Smokery. While all the fish is tender, juicy, and supercharged with a delicately smoky flavour, the real winner of this plate for me is the salmon jerky. Made with chum salmon, the texture is almost exactly like real bacon except a little less salty.
Before we know it, we’ve polished off the board and some beautiful looking seafood koftas have arrived at our table. Plated in a personal-sized cast iron skillet, two kebabs the size of small burgers sit gently atop a bed of spicy lentils. Served alongside is a slice of perfectly charred baguette, a crispy pappadum, and a variety of masalas and house-made Indian-style pickles. The taste of the pickle is super salty and sour, and depending on which sauce you dip the kebab in, each bite tastes totally different. Saying this dish is an explosion of flavours doesn’t nearly do it justice.
Before I even have time to look up, Chef Kunal appears again with one of their brunch staples, the Dobosala Eggs. Named for the union between Indian and Mexican flavours, this dish finds charred sweet corn, slow-poached eggs, avocado raita, and char-grilled salmon belly bacon piled high atop two crispy re-fried chana paratha. With the paratha acting as the vessel for the rest of the ingredients to float upon, I’m immediately reminded of the lightly fried tortillas you’d find in huevos rancheros, but with the addition of the salmon bacon and avocado raita, it’s more like a souped-up eggs benny.
As I slice into this beauty, a thick and custardy yolk oozes out – the hallmark of a perfectly cooked egg. To make things even better, it comes with a side of hash browns, and is there truly anything better in this world than dipping crispy potatoes into a pool of velvety egg yolk? This guy doesn’t think so. While many brunch places tend to have the exact same menu done over and over again, Chef Kunal is switching it up in an epic way with this one.
“When you take a chance and open an Indian-French restaurant, it could go sideways” explains Kunal as he sits down for our interview. And while Fusion dining concepts are indeed a risky business, Kunal has the chops to hit this idea out of the park, and that is exactly what he has done. So whether it’s the perfect location for your next family affair or a soulful weekend brunch by the water that you’re after, the new Fishhook has got you covered. Come down to the wharf and get hooked today!