Jonas Stadtländer helming the kitchen at the legendary Sooke Harbour House
It’s impossible to ignore the similarities between acclaimed Vancouver Island restaurant Sooke Harbour House and legendary local chef Michael Stadtlander’s Eigensinn Farm. The quirky touches, the whimsical driftwood sculptures, and the dedication to a true farm-to-table dining experience. And for the past year and a half, both places also have a tall German-Canadian named Stadtländer running the show in the kitchen.
Jonas Stadtlander, Michael’s son, grew up on Eigensinn Farm in Singhampton, Ont. north of Toronto learning the chef’s trade from his father and heading up the kitchen at the more casual arm of the operation Hasai. He also met his future wife, Naori, at the farm before venturing off on his own, including a five-year stint in Japan and more recently in Kelowna, B.C. He's now married, with two kids, living in Sooke — under a cougar warning the day I visited.
According to Jonas, his father also worked at Sooke Harbour House — owned by Sinclair and Frederique Philip — during the late '80s. "I also spent a year here when I was younger," he says, so he knew the place well enough prior to arriving.
Although Eigensinn Farm and Sooke Harbour House have much in common regarding philosophy in the kitchen, the young Stadtländer's operation is much larger with both a fine dining and casual restaurant located inside a charming inn overlooking the Juan de Fuca Strait. The inn employs three gardeners to take care of the property, and grow herbs and produce for the kitchen. Stadtländer says he gets most ingredients from local farms including a pig he was butchering that day, sourced from a farm up the street and the wasabi used in the restaurant's stellar sockeye salmon entrée, made by a local First Nations community.
Currently, the restaurant features a reasonably priced four-course menu with optional wine pairings, although a la carte offerings are also available.
Dinner begins well with a simply dressed salad of greens picked from the Harbour House's gardens.
And pan-seared scallop with Swiss chard, chive floweret and chimichurri:
The second plates offer many of the most intriguing options including a carrot miso brulée, a ravioli dish and a side stripe shrimp and Salt Spring Island mussels dish.
Confit chicken ravioli with quince gastrique, smoked feta and Puck Farms green beans and parsley:
Entrées include Berkshire pork loin, lamb loin and shank and a delicious oyster mushroom and barley risotto, but when visiting Vancouver Island, sockeye salmon is a must, here served with a salsa of fresh strawberry and chervill, turnip, spinach and a potato rosti:
Desserts focus on refreshing fruits, ice creams, sorbets as well as Okanagan Peach Panna Cotta, shown below:
When visiting, be sure to stroll the gardens and take it all the charm and eccentricity of Sooke Harbour House perhaps taking a walk along nearby Whiffen Spit. It's stunning.