Poetry At Sooke Harbour House
Sooke Harbor House is more than just a picturesque, garden-laden seaside inn with world-class food and wine menus that change on a daily basis. It’s more than just a sought-after venue for destination weddings and corporate retreats. Sooke Harbour House – located on the southern coast of Vancouver Island – is a spiritual place laden with history – from a migratory camping ground of the T’sou-ke First Nation to Spanish and British occupancy in the 1700s and 1800s, to an auto camp and teahouse in the 1920s, with construction of the Sooke Harbour House taking place in 1929 to operate as a dining room and inn. Fifty years later, Frédérique and Sinclair Philip purchased the property as-is: a single house with 5 small guestrooms, no private guest bathrooms, and a small dining room.
Seven years later, they built on 10 additional guestrooms, complete with fireplaces, dens, and two-person soaker tubs. Two years after that, in 1988, those original five guestrooms built in 1929 were renovated to match the style and offerings of those ten rooms built back in 1986; and, in 1998, 13 more rooms were added for a total of 28 rooms, each of which has been uniquely designed with such themes as First Nation, garden, ocean, and culinary and decorated by Frédérique with works from local artists and artisans; the room rates range in price depending on the room and time of year from approximately $260 to $660 a night. As if the soaker tubs -located in some rooms both inside the rooms and outside on the secluded decks – Sooke Harbour House also offers in-room spa services through its Sea-renity Spa service.
The quirky, Escher-esque halls of the inn – remember, that’s a lot of renovations, dear hedonists – make up an art gallery that features over 150 local artists and artisans. There’s also a library worth an hour or two of your time. There’s even a gift shop – both virtual and actual, too. About three years ago they added the Sooke Harbour Farm, an organic farm just over 2 acres in size that they lease that supplies the inn’s kitchen. Until then, they always had their edible landscape on the ground themselves, chocked full with over 200 edible herbs, greens, flowers, and vegetables. Then there’s the seafood available in the ocean.
The Cornucopia here abounds.
It’s a place where you can truly escape reality for awhile and focus on what arguably really matters: your dreams.
Although Sooke Harbour House may not be a place where all of your dreams come true, it certainly comes close. It’s the kind of place where all of your dreams could easily be conceived – in perfect clarity, no less.
Brian Storen – my sensually seductive sommelier crush-at-first sight who’s now become a dear friend and new-found member of my food and wine geek-ridden adoptive family – introduced me to Sinclair and Frédérique Philip, the owners and innkeepers of Sooke Harbour House (Sinclair is also the Wine Director and Frédérique the Art and Design Director), who in turn offered me a media dinner with the two of them, a one-night stay in their fabulous Thunderbird Room (that’s room #25, the “Bird’s Nest Supreme King”), and breakfast. (Brian has a long-standing relationship with Sinclair and Frédérique Philip and Sooke Harbour House; he was their past sommelier and can on occasion still be found working there a day or two every week. If you’re lucky, you’ll dine on a night he’s working the floor.) Their wine cellar – which can hold up to 15,000 wines – has won the Wine Spectator Grand Award since 2000.
They offer a 4-course dinner at $74.95 (CDN) per person as well as a Multicourse tasting menu for $120.00 (CDN) per person (excluding beverages, taxes, and gratuities) with wine pairing another $80.00 (CDN) per person. Tasting notes of the surreal dinner with Frédérique and Sinclair (as well as with Brian, who intermittently graced our presence as the sommelier that night):
Soup: The Nelson Carrot and Coriander Soup – complete with house smoked cheddar cream, garlic chive, cilantro pesto and a delectable bite of grilled sardine, paired with my thus far fav Vancouver Island vineyard, hands down: Venturi-Schulze Vineyards of Cobble Hill’s 2009 Millefiori, a cool fermented marriage of Spanish Ortega & German Siegerrebe varietals. Millefiori means “1000 Flowers” in Italian, which, given the both tropical and fruit flower quality of this wine, combined with a citrusy finish, complemented the herbed cream and fish in the soup.
Salad: The Sooke Harbour House Salad – A beloved regular on the menu, this salad features the wild and organic greens and blossoms from their landscaped garden, served with an Okanagan cherry vinaigrette and maple-fennel candied walnuts. (Again, the Millefiori worked beautifully here, picking up the sweet maple and cherry, the sour of the vinaigrette, and the soft bitterness of the greens and blending them with ease.)
Seafood: B.C. Seafood Trio – Sablefish, wild rice fried oyster, and grilled scallop, served on a bed of spicy miso coleslaw with fennel frond sour cream, sea asparagus, and radish pod salad with a honey chive vinaigrette. Wow – a veritable menage a trois a la mer – that was washed down nicely with a glass of Quails Gate Kelowna Vineyards outrageous blend of 2009 Chasselas, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc.
Duck: Cowichan Bay Farm Duck Confit – Served on three types of stone ground mustard, this duck was presented with braised cabbage with a sage pomme Duchess, blackberry jus and a rosemary oat gremolata. Paired perfectly with Salt Spring Island’s Gary Oak Vineyards esoteric 2009 Pinot Noir/Zwiegelt Rosé.
Fish: Pan Fired Pacific Lingcod Served with Petrale sole, Salt Spring Island mussels, and gooseneck barnacles in a carrot-fennel sauce with a calendula petal, basil rouille on Bordeaux spinach crepes, sautéed Ragley Farm baby carrots and bok choy straight from the Sooke Harbour Farm. Brian’s pairing with Okanagan Falls Blue Mountain Vineyard’s state-of-the-art 2008 Gamay Noir was a great choice.
Lamb Loin: Roasted Loin of Silver Spray Farm Lamb – served in a chervil and meat stock reduction with a pea, mint, and tomato vinaigrette on a Warba potato roesti, complete with sautéed kale and golden beets, this dish rendered a cacophony of stimuli for the 10,000 or so taste buds. And the Similkameen Valley Herder Vineyards 2008 Meritage Bordeaux Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petite Verdot only added to this sensual stimulation.
Cheese: Plate of Artisan Cheeses – Chef de Cuisine Sam Benedetto’s selection, here: Moonstruck Farm Cheese from Salt Spring Island, made from raw, organic, unpasteurized jersey cow milk: White Moon and Beddis Blue as well as Hilary’s Cheese Company in Cowichan Bay: St-Michel and Red Dawn. Once again, Venturi-Schulze … only, this time, their dessert wine: the 2007 Brandenburg #3 – which Brian has coined – somewhat aptly – the “leg spreader.”
Creme Brulee: last but by no means least, we finished with a Chelan cherry crème brulee, served with a side of mint marinated fresh cherries and pared deliciously with Tugwell Creek, Vancouver Island Meadery Vintage Sack Mead.
Sinclair (who has a Ph.D. in Political Economics) met Frédérique (who has a Masters in Economics) – when they were both students at the University of Grenoble. They raised four children at Sooke Harbour House while living in the basement of the main house for 16 years. (Now, as “empty-nesters” they have recently acquired a home nearby.)
The dinner with Sinclair and Frédérique – which took place only a couple of days after they were two of the fourteen recipients of the Governor General’s Award in Celebration of the Nation’s Table Nation’s Table – an award that was bestowed by their Excellencies the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada and His Excellency Jean-Daniel Lafond at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on June 23, 2010. The purpose of the award is to recognize and hono(u)r the efforts of Canadian citizens in improving the quality, variety, and sustainability of all elements of Canada’s culinary culture. The 14 recipients received this newly-created award based on 6 categories: Creativity and Innovation, Education and Awareness, Leadership, Mentorship and Inspiration, Stewardship and Sustainability, and Youth.
Frédérique and Sinclair were awarded the Governor General’s Award in Celebration of the Nation’s Table Nation’s Table under the “Mentorship and Inspiration” category for their 30-year-plus commitment as a philosophical incubator for regional and sustainable food practices that has resulted in an internationally-renowned inn and über chef-creating machine. From art to artisans and foodies to food philosophies, these two are now very active in the international Slow Food movement (they focus their establishment with “conscientious luxury.” (Just one of many accolades; they also recently were awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from Vancouver Magazine last May.)
Sooke Harbour House is also the kind of place that inspires poetry. Literally. The poem below was conceived and inspired by my post-dinner outdoor soaker bath tub – that’s bath tub, not hot tub, dear hedonists – located on the secluded, covered deck of my room:
The moonlight beacon
suspended so firmly
in an ebony sky
shares its luminescence
with the slumbering sea
in hourglass form
lucid as my visions
beckons me to sopor;
come dawn, my moon dreams will
and thus become
To say this place is inspirational is an understatement; for, not only did the Canadian Governor General just awarded its owners and innkeepers a national award for such inspiration, but I personally solidified plans to finish one book I’ve been attempting to write for years and outlined another by the time I left the warmth and hospitality of Sinclair and Frédérique’s fairy tale inn!
“Poetry At Sooke Harbour House” Contest: As I was leaving this glorious place, Frédérique handed me several coupons for distribution to my readers (each coupon resembles the Canadian $20 bill, with a Sooke Harbour House twist). This inspired me to hold a poetry contest where the winner receives coupons worth $200 in Sooke Harbour House “dollars” to be used all in one visit (normally the coupons are $20 off, redeemable one per reservation). So … have you ever been to a place that moved you to compose poetry? If not, do you want to discover such a place for yourself? If so, please email a relevant poem (one entry per person, with the poem no more than 14 lines in length) to firstname.lastname@example.org with the words “Poetry At Sooke Harbour House” in the subject heading by 11:59 p.m. (PST) on Friday, August 13, 2010. The winning poem will be selected by your Hedonista in collaboration with none other than Sinclair and Frédérique Philip and their Sooke Harbour House team; the winning poem will be published here on Heed the Hedonist as well as on the Sooke Harbour House website and will receive $200 worth of coupons (courtesy of Sinclair and Frédérique Philip), redeemable all at once at Sooke Harbour House.
Who could ask for more?