Red Fish Blue Fish – Victoria, BC
I have made the decision to embark on a Halifax fish ‘n’ chips quest this summer! This is a dish I often avoid because I find the combination of deep fried & deep fried to be so heavy and regretful. For this reason, I will only be eating 1pc fish ‘n’ chips all summer, and supplementing these posts with a Halifax vegetarian series. Coast writer Melissa Buote wrote this week that “great fish and chips is at worst a myth – something only truly great in theory – and at best a brass ring that we all grasp once or twice, spending the rest of our diner days trying to recapture the experience” (The Coast v.21.1). Before my quest commences, I deem it necessary to show you my “brass ring”: the best fish and chips I’ve ever had.
Red Fish Blue Fish is a waterfront landmark on Victoria’s Inner Harbour. It is housed in an “up-cycled” cargo container where folks line up for albacore tuna, wild pacific salmon, Qualicum Bay scallops, Fanny Bay oysters, fresh halibut and cod. The menu has got some damn interesting choices, such as “Spicy Pacific Fish Sloppy Joe” and a seafood poutine with local shrimp, smoked tuna belly bacon bits, crispy shallots & miso-clam gravy.
People line up for this stuff! Wear sunblock.
But Red Fish Blue Fish is best known for its fish ‘n’ chips, which come in salmon, halibut, and cod. It ain’t cheap, either. A 2pc halibut and chips will run you $20! I know, right? Are you still with me? I simply had to have the halibut, as this is the choice battered fish of BC, but I was also intrigued by the novelty of salmon. So I ordered a 1pc salmon w/chips ($10) with a piece of halibut ($9). This came with tartar sauce, slaw, and hand-cut Kennebec fries. The fish is very fresh and has a nice crispy tempura batter. I personally don’t see what the big deal is about Kennebec fries, but I have no complaints about them. As for the fish: generous portion + crispy batter + fresh fish = perfection. Why is this so hard to find?
There was one other thing that I have to mention about Red Fish Blue Fish. I know this post is about the best fish ‘n’ chips I’ve ever had, but it was really this other item that stole the show. Red Fish Blue Fish makes “Fish Tacones”, which are essentially cone tacos. They are grilled flour tortillas with slaw, pea shoots and lemon pickled onions. They come stuffed with a variety of seafood and there is even an edamame version. But I went with the Grill Seared Albacore Tuna ($6) w/ spicy spot prawn mayo. The tuna was outwardly seared, but inwardly rare. Everything was so simple and fresh, and yet creative and gourmet.
I still dream about the tuna tacone sometimes…. far away on a distant coast, where people eat pea shoots and edamame and pay $20 for sustainable fish ‘n’ chips in the bright Victoria sunshine.
But I digress. The Victoria Waterfront was too touristy for me and I ate too much. As for Halifax, we are talking about a very different culinary creature. In Nova Scotia, haddock is king. Many Nova Scotians are still skeptical of raw or rare seafood, as our culinary roots are deeply entrenched in our tradition of boiling the crap out of everything, if not salting or pickling it. Fish tacos are noticeably missing from our menus, but we eat fishcakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Steamed blue mussels and our large Digby scallops are a matter of pride, and of course, there is always lobster. We are still partial to our traditional methods of cooking all of our seafood in butter and cream, but the province is seeing lots of innovation and chef-inspired novelty.
The average Haligonian, however, will wince at having to pay more than $10 for fish ‘n’ chips. We too often accept our freezer-fry-fate, and dare I say, packaged tartar sauce! I am torn between tradition and innovation, at times unwilling to abandon the old world classics for objectively better quality. We are not about to make gourmet donairs (are we?) and I only wish to find the perfect East Coast style fish ‘n’ chips. Does it exist, or am I grasping at a theoretical entity? … a battered brass ring at a reasonable price.