Victoria is no stranger to fine dining, especially when it comes to serving seafood.
The trend continues with the Vancouver-based Toptable Group opening a new restaurant in downtown Victoria. Not only has Toptable Group been well-renowned for its restaurants in Vancouver, but in Whistler and even in New York City. The new restaurant, Marilena Cafe and Raw Bar, will be located at the Rotunda building on 1525 Douglas St.
The restaurant group is also notable for its connection to the Vancouver Canucks. Toptable Group and the professional hockey team share the same owner, Francesco Aquilini.
“For me it’s been a long time coming. This project has been in the hopper for probably three and a half years,” said Marilena executive chef Kristian Eligh. “The pandemic had a lot to do with the delays, but now we’re trying to time that opening with the kind of vibrancy coming back into Victoria’s food scene and downtown in general. We’re definitely excited about the time of year we’re embarking on this opening.”
The restaurant’s cuisine will have a strong seafood focus anchored by a Japanese-inspired raw bar.
“We have an incredible sushi chef here producing sashimi, negi and rolls off of that raw bar. Coming from the hot kitchen behind me we’re showcasing both chilled, warmed, and shared plates,” said Eligh from his kitchen made up of stainless steel working stations and ocean-coloured wall tiles.
One of the seafood highlights from international waters that the eatery will prepare is a stripped bass from Mexico. The raw bar will also serve up fresh hibachi, ahi tuna and more from Pacific waters around Hawaii. Although the restaurant specializes in local and exotic import sustainable seafood, the chef said that “outside of that, we have something for everyone.”
When it comes to beverages, the restaurant offers nothing less than quality and quantity. There’s a extensive wine list and two tall stocked wine cellars in the back. According to Eligh, the restaurant is “trying to showcase of a lot of Vancouver Island B.C. wine. We have a lot of import wine coming in as well, old world and new world.”
At the front of the restaurant, guests are greeted with a wide bar with an “incredibly deep list of spirits and fun homemade cocktails,” said Eligh.
Marilena’s design was built to create pockets of ambience. This is so at anytime of the week the restaurant could be a desired spot. Eligh said “that the quieter mid-week night we’re able to front-load the room and create that buzz and atmosphere you want. Then obviously on the busy Thursday, Friday, Saturday we’ve got the seats here for a really great time.”
Adapting to Victoria is something Toptable Group will have to do, as this is the first restaurant they have opened on the island city. .
“We really just want to make sure that the food offerings and service is approachable and mesh well with Victoria.”
The restaurant and its staff from the island are also excited about the restaurants opening. “We’ve been able to collect some great local talent to help be ‘the boots on the ground’ both in the front of house and back of house,” said Eligh.
The restaurant still does not have an official opening date, but aims to open its doors to the public by the end of June.