An Interview at Heron Rock Bistro

There’s something magical about ambling past a busy restaurant at night – the dark street a perfect contrast to the glowing, bustling atmosphere, and you, the unseen voyeur peering into a private world. TASTE MAG cordially invites you to join the festivities with our TOP SHELF features.

Heron Rock Bistro is a Victoria staple. And for TASTE MAG’s inaugural TOP SHELF, we couldn’t have picked a better establishment to spotlight. Tucked away in the heart of picturesque James Bay, this little bistro has been serving gorgeous food and pouring top quality drinks for almost a decade. We sat down with proprietor Andrew Moffatt for a chat.    


TASTE MAG: I hear you’ve got some exciting things happening, tell me about them!

ANDREW MOFFATT: “Well, we’ve had quite a busy season so far! We’ve just completed a major renovation to the front of house and it looks awesome. Plus we added six more taps to the bar so we now have nine local craft beers to offer. It’s perfect timing because we’ve just introduced Happy Hour at the Heron Rock every night from 8pm-close – we’ve already been so busy! On top of all that, we’re celebrating our ten year anniversary of being in business in May!”


TM: What makes Heron Rock Bistro so unique?

AM: “We’re so proud to say that after ten years of being in business, we’re still serving quality breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. Sure, we’ve changed the menu through the years as we’ve evolved, using amazing, locally sourced products – but to be able to say that after a decade, we’re still successfully doing the same thing as day one, is pretty unique.”


TM: Your Snapper and Bacon Po’ Boy sounds dangerous! If you had to choose, which menu item would be your favourite?

AM: “Good choice! The Snapper and Bacon Po'Boy is so popular! But to kick it up to the next level, you’ve gotta have a side of our homemade chokeslam hot sauce with it. If you were visiting Heron Rock for the first time I’d have to recommend the Croque Madame though. With a side of our house cut kennebec fries, it's a winner, a knife a forker, rich and always satisfying.”


TM: What charities do you support?

AM: “The organization that we've been working to promote and support the last five years is the Together Against Poverty Society of Victoria (T.A.P.S). It’s an organization that provides free face-to-face legal advocacy for people with income assistance, disability benefits and tenancy issues.”


TM: Why is T.A.P.S important to you?

“We’re true Victorians so to us, the most important thing is to make sure every person in this great city is represented. Victoria is a town that takes care of it's own and we want to keep it that way.”


TM: Tell us something not many people about you:

AM: “Most people already know that I'm not on Facebook and that I’m not big on the whole social media thing personally. Our Chef and co-owner, Ben Peterson, is our savvy social-media guy and is Heron Rock’s online presence. I know how important online engagement is to access a larger audience, but I’m a people person and know that my time is better spent engaging face to face with staff, guests, neighbours and suppliers. Good thing I have business partners!”


TM: How long have you been a part of the Victoria community?

AM: “I grew up in Winnepeg and moved to Abbostford to go to school. After three years there, I returned to my hometown. I had a brief go at Vancouver in my early twenties, but it wasn't for me. I came out to Victoria on a spring rugby tour in 2001 and it totally felt like home. I moved later that summer and never looked back!”


TM: You have the day off, what are your favourite things to do in Victoria?

AM: “I really enjoy trying new recipes so making my wife dinner at home is my standby. But to mix it up, we’ll head out for a night on the town. Victoria’s food scene is so vibrant, we always have a great time. That, and she has an amazing sense of humour so really, even eating fast food with her is pretty great. If she’s busy though, and I have the time, playing golf at Gorge Vale is a great way to spend the day.”


TM: Who is your foodie guru?

AM: “Not entirely sure what a foodie guru is exactly! But, Tommy Douglas (of Lola fame) in Seattle is someone I have and followed over the last six or seven years. Also, Thomas Keller (Bouchon and The French Laundry) in California, has been a huge influence to our Bistro. I was fortunate enough to experience Bouchon about five years ago and was absolutely blown away by the service. The food of course, was amazing, but the service was impeccable. I can easily say that it was the best I’ve ever experienced and I’ve since tried to implement the same kind of service at Heron Rock.”


TM: How does Victoria inspire your restaurant?

AM: “I’d have to say that Victoria's beer scene has been the biggest local inspiration for us at Heron Rock. Ben and I, along with our partners Steve and Gina Watson at the Crooked Goose in Saanich, recently introduced a Brewmaster's Dinner Series. It’s a really exciting opportunity to pair incredible, local, craft beer with delicious food and showcase how flexibly beer and food are paired. Because Heron Rock and Crooked Goose are neighbourhood bistros offering great food and craft beers on tap, this dinner series was a no-brainer for us. Maintaining our relationships with local craft brewers is a continued priority for our ownership team – I mean, it’s no secret that Victorian craft beer is becoming a real competitor on the North American stage – we want to make sure that we’re supporting and growing with it.”


TM: What do you love about being a part of Victoria dining?

AM: “I love that Victoria has so many quality restaurants where locals and visitors can dine. Good food is easy if you are using good quality ingredients, and where better than Victoria to find such an incredible variety of top quality, local products? Both Heron Rock and the Crooked Goose believe that quality food and drink are what our customers really visit us for, so keeping the quality up is our number one priority!”


TM: What has changed in the Victoria dining scene in the last 10 years?

AM: “I’d have to say that the biggest change I’ve noticed in Victoria is the growth of and appetite for culinary knowledge amongst consumers. People are so much more aware and want to know what the ingredients are and where they came from. It’s great because it forces us to think locally and sustainably for each menu item. People now want to know even more about how the dishes are prepared and they’re getting almost as excited as we are about really great food.”


TM: What do you picture the Victoria dining scene looking like in the next 10?

AM: “Great question. I suspect sustainability will figure even more prominently in our local food scene. And I think the systems are in place to make sure that happens. My biggest hope for the future though is a continued strong human element in our dining scene. I know I’m a self professed Luddite to a degree, but I hope I never find myself punching my own order in at a restaurant using some expensive smart phone that is going to need replacing when thebigger faster stronger X87 comes out. Mainly though, in ten years I can picture Heron Rock celebrating twenty years of great service. I’m living the dream and I don’t plan on waking up any time soon.”





An Interview at The Guild Freehouse





- an association of people for mutual aid or the pursuit of a common goal.


If there was ever a restaurant that was so aptly named, so literal in it’s nomenclature, it would be The Guild Freehouse. Located on Warf Street in Victoria’s picturesque Inner Harbour The Guild is the embodiment of passion and commitment to quality. We sat down with owner, John Watson to discuss what makes The Guild such a hub of like minded foodies.


TASTE MAG: I understand that owner of The Guild is a fairly new role for you, what was it that drew you to this place with so many restaurants in the city?

JOHN WATSON: “A guild is really what this place is – it’s a group of passionate people that want to support each other to make something really great. I was drawn to that idea and have really found an incredible team here – everyone has strengths and weaknesses and here at The Guild we really compliment each other by recognizing that and working together as a unit. I think the moment I really fell for this place though, was when I ate The Rueben. I seriously devoured it and was blown away when I found out that the reason it tasted so great was that the sauerkraut was made in-house. It really made all the difference. After that I was a quality convert – you can actually taste the passion and care behind the food.”  


TM: I hear that The Guild is becoming a bit of a hot-spot for functions! it’s certainly a beautiful space, but what is it that makes it such a go-to place as a venue?

bar chalkboard and light.jpg

JW: “Yeah! Seems that way! We’ve hosted a lot of private functions so far, and each party has had rave reviews about their experience. It’s great because the building we’re in means that our function capacity is really malleable.  Like, we’re able to accommodate parties from 10 to 220 people because we’ve got an 80 person capacity down stairs and a 140 person capacity upstairs. With a fully functioning kitchen and bar upstairs too, you can book out the top section, the bottom or both, depending on your needs. We’re also more than happy to work with the client and make a customized menu, and we’ve got an event planner on staff to help you along and make sure it goes off without a hitch. Just give us a call and we can set up the rest!”     


TM: Looks like I’ve got my next birthday spot then! Let’s talk food: I know that you have a fantastic brunch menu, so this may be tough to answer, but if you had to choose, which brunch dish would be your ‘Must Try’?

JW: “Definitely the Mushrooms on Brioche Toast. It’s so delicious and simple, but decedent at the same time. Plus, the brioche is made right here so you can’t really go wrong. If I’m being honest though, all of our menu items are really fantastic and well thought out. I mean, our bacon is smoked and cured in house, so we’re involved in every stage of the culinary process which ensures that our guests are really getting top notch quality, every time.”


TM: Being a part of a relatively small downtown core and being a business in a heritage building must make you really community minded:

JW: “Oh absolutely! If there is one thing that I’ve learned from being in this industry and in this community is that giving back and taking care of the community that you live in is really, really important. In the past we’ve donated to Cops for Cancer, but honestly, I really want to kick it up a notch. I’ve got a charity poker tournament in the works so stay tuned for that!”


TM: What can you tell us about John Watson that not many people know?

JW: “Well I grew up in New Zealand and when I was 18 I moved to Victoria with my Mom. She moved back a few years later, but I decided to stay. I have to say, it was pretty tough. I was working as a line cook for minimum wage, I didn’t have a family support system and I was…well…not exactly responsible. I was pretty reckless with my money and I wound up in some sticky spots, more than once. But on the other side of the coin, it was a great learning experience, I had a lot of fun, and made some incredible memories. And now I’m at The Guild and loving it…I just sometimes wish it didn’t take 10 years to get here!”


TM: So you’ve been a Victorian for a long time!

JW: “Yeah! I definitely consider myself a local for sure. My first place was on Grant Street and since then I’ve moved all around the downtown core. I can’t imagine living anywhere else, I mean, in my opinion, Canada is the best country in the world and we live in the best city in Canada, so really, I’m living in the best city in the world. Like right now, I’m looking out my window at the Inner Harbour and I can’t help thinking “wow”. It may be expensive, but it’s worth it.”


TM: You must know the city like the back of your hand, so when you get the day off, which I’m sure is rare right now, what do you do?

JW: “Oh man you’re so right, it’s rare to get the day off, but when I do I like visiting other places in town. This is a great city for that, you can make almost anywhere a home away from home. You can usually find me at hanging out with Lee at Fiamo’s, or Willis from 10 acres. North 48 is another favourite – those are the places that for me are all about good food and good people. And I suppose I should fess up – I’m a gamer and a movie watcher. Sometimes there is nothing better than just hanging at home.”


TM: Is there anyone that you would consider your ‘foodie guru’?

JW: “It’s funny, my passion for food really comes out when I’m in my own kitchen, way more than it ever did as a cook – that’s just me though, I am fueled by interacting with people and looking at food from this perspective really inspires me. If I had to pick a ‘foodie guru’ though, I’d have to say that right now, it’s Chef Sam. His talent, ability and yes I’ll say it again, passion, is infectious. The other person that springs to mind though is John Waller from the Oak Bay Marina. I used to work with him and he was so inspiring to work with.”


TM: How does being a part of the Victoria community inform your plans and menus for The Guild?

JW: “There’s no doubt, Victoria is one of the most competitive cities to open a restaurant in – and I think that is what drives us. You have to be on top of your game all the time because if you aren’t you’ll get slaughtered. We really want to be a place where locals can come and have fun in a refined but cozy atmosphere. Sure, having a busy tourist season is a bonus, but having the support of our community is what is going to make or break any restaurant. As far as our food goes, our menu showcases as much local food as we can get. Living on Vancouver Island means that we have access to amazing, local products, so why not take advantage of that! I think also though, our menu can sometimes look a little heavy for health-minded locals with things like Fish Pie being showcased. But what is really important is that, yeah we make comfort food, but even the ‘heaviest’ dish isn’t going to leave you feeling awful and that all comes down to the ingredients. We use fresh whole foods and everything is made in house, so sure we cook with butter and cream but there isn’t anything processed on our menu, and that really makes all the difference.”


TM: What do you love about being a part of the Victoria dining scene?

JW: “Passion is the key to success in Victoria for sure and so we’ve aimed to hire and collaborate with people who have that level of passion that is going to make everything about The Guild great. From the food to the service and the cocktails, we want to make sure that our customers really feel and taste how important great quality is to us.”


TM: In your opinion, what has changed in the Victoria dining scene in the last 10 years?

JW: “People in Victoria are so knowledgeable and so aware of making sure they know what they’re eating. They want to know what the ingredients are and where they come from – and so do we. Being a part of the local food movement and seeing how people are responding to it is really cool.”


TM: What do you picture the next 10 years looking like for the Victoria food scene?

JW: “The food truck movement is exploding and I think that it’ll only grow. Victoria is a walking city, so it would make sense for food trucks to be everywhere soon.”


TM: If The Guild were a person, how would you describe it’s personality?

JW: “Oh man…that’s a tough one. OK here it goes:

The Guild would be a really dapper guy, always chivalrous and makes everyone feel at ease. He knows a ton about food and drink, can order a scotch like a connoisseur but can also bro down with a beer. He’s tons of fun, but knows when it’s time to call a cab. A gentleman through and through.”