June 9, 2022 – “Those halibut meatballs are so delicious, and the tomatoes add the perfect balance,” said Dana Goedbloed, while Carol Perry exclaimed, “It was a meal full of wows.” Shawna Allen capped her praise for De L’île Restaurant with, “This was honestly one of the best things I have ever tasted .”
High praise, well deserved.
Two years ago in May 2020, just as the pandemic began, restaurant owners Milena Ficza and Will Cook carved out what now occupies a unique place in the hearts of Qualicum Beach residents and foodies from afar. It was the worst time to start a restaurant, but they persevered.
As soon as word got out, their fan base began to take off. Now, it’s common to see line-ups when their bakery opens for the mid-day run, while people scan their eclectic, ever-changing with the seasons dinner menu as they wait patiently for their turn to select their baked treats, planning their next opportunity to savour a leisurely dinner.
One of the reasons for all this praise is De L’île Restaurant’s devotion to fresh, local products, often home-grown and in-house preserved.
But, it’s the culinary artistry that these two trained chefs bring to the palate and the plate. The combinations of flavours served up by Will and Milena are sublime and unusual. Many people swear by their Carte Blanche menu, leaving it up to the two chefs to serve the perfect selection of dishes. Before they decided to settle in Qualicum Beach, Will was a chef at a New Zealand restaurant, and Milena is a trained pastry chef who originally hails from the East Coast. Both honed their chops working in restaurants in Europe.
Speaking of chops, De L’île Restaurant celebrates vegetarian and seafood meals. And what seafood it is. Will and Milena bring in whole, fresh halibut. It’s caught off the west coast of Vancouver Island, delivered directly to their back door, and processed right at the restaurant.
Upon arrival, the halibut is treated with reverance. Will’s knife skills are clearly evident as he carefully lays the halibut out. “It’s smaller than we usually get,” he says. Normally one who flees fish market odours, I’m amazed that that the halibut has no fishy smell, just a clean, fresh scent, reminiscent of spring water burbling in the wilderness. Eyeing the sleek grey and cream coloured halibut, Will’s knife skills take centre stage. He makes his first cut, swift and sure. Soon he is releasing the flesh from the skeleton with delicate precision, technique that can only be developed with the proverbial 10,000 hours of experience. It’s a marvellous performance to observe.
Strips of luscious halibut soon begin to fill large stainless steel trays. The skeleton is laid bare, a work of art, David Cronenberg style, but Will is only getting started. He begins to meticulously scrape the miniscule amounts of translucent cream-coloured flesh still clinging to the bones, gleaning every bit of the delicious halibut. I imagine this will be used for the halibut “meatballs” that we enjoyed on a recent night out.
Nothing is wasted at De L’île Restaurant, truly nothing. All of the bits and pieces that many of us might discard in our home kitchens, Will and Milena use to make highly innovative sauces, broths and other condiments that they weave together to create their evening meal selections. Their halibut meatball was a delightfully unusual way to present halibut, a departure from the equally delicious, but ubiquitous seared halibut served in so many restaurants.
Many people favour the restaurant’s Carte Blanche multi-course menu. Each course builds on the other in an amazing melange of flavours, subtle and unusual, but somehow perfectly matched to bring out the best in the ingredients. Add your choice of their carefully selected local beverages, and you will have found culinary paradise. Dessert almost seems like an after-thought, but it isn’t. Rhubarb, dark chocolate and elderflower confection, anyone?
Word to the wise for those who have not yet dined at De L’île — their famous baked goods, made with flour milled on the premises, are not available in the evening — that’s pure marketing genius because they know you’ll come back during the day to score that Coffee Kombucha Knot before they are all gone! Bakery open 10am to 2pm.
De L’île Restaurant: Dinner available Tuesday – Saturday 5pm till 8pm. Menu changes frequently, check their website at https://www.delilerestaurant.ca/, reservations recommended (778) 953-5034.
READ our earlier profile of De L’île Restaurant & Bakery, New restaurant-bakery mills flour on-site, preserves Island bounty.