Aura Waterfront Restaurant & Patio
680 Montreal St.
Aura is situated within the Laurel Point Inn, right on the water. The Inn has recently been face-lifted, and the furnishings are top notch. I’ve read many rave reviews about Aura, and after seeing a feature in a food publication about it I decided I needed to make it the next on my restaurant hitlist. The patio we sat on was warmed by state-of-the-art space heaters, and we dodged the live music setting up their act as we walked in. Tom Watson and the Honeycrooners perform at Aura every Wednesday from 7 pm-10 pm, serenading guests with jazzy classics. The lead singer Tom, became quite chatty with the people dining outside, leading to some entertaining banter.
I’ll admit that I had very high expectations going into this meal at Aura due to the executive chef’s accolades and great reviews. The menu reminds me of the days of Niche, or even Cafe Brio, with a condensed well thought-out list of fresh and local West Coast ingredients. My friend J and I reconnected over this meal, as it had been a few months since our last visit. J being a foodie himself, seemed a good person to try Aura with as I knew he would appreciate it. I ordered a Morioka martini( $8.50), which featured some Stolichnaya vodka, Lillet Blanc, yuzu marmalade, and an orange zest twist. J ordered a Race Rocks Amber Ale pint($6.75) to go with his dinner selection.
I notified J about the plethora of great compliments surrounding the ‘Point Burger’, paraphrasing a review, which ” blew all other burgers in Victoria out of the water”. He took my advice, and ordered the Point Burger, an Alberta beef patty, with caramelized onions, aged white cheddar, cubed bacon, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, and pickles on a house-made sesame seed bun($17) with hand-cut fries.
It was a toss-up between the Halibut, the Duck, or the Surf and Turf for me. The server said the Duck was a solid choice, so I went with it, which was described on the menu as follows: ” Sour cherry glazed duck breast with cauliflower ricotta gnocchi, white asparagus, patty pan squash, and cherry brandy reduction”, for $28.00. While we waited for our meals, some fresh-made brioche was dropped by for us to nibble on. It was still warm, which melted the interesting grapefruit mint butter accompaniment.
When I asked J how his burger was out of 10, he replied instantaneously with a 10. I tried it myself, and the beef was juicy, the mustard was delicious, the onions were pickled not caramelized as advertised, but nonetheless tasty. The fries were crisp and flavourful, but if I had my hyper-critical glasses on( which apparently I never take off), the taste had a lingering almost-burnt taste, perhaps they were left in a bit too long, or it was intentional for a different flavour profile.
My duck breast was cooked lovely, the knife wasn’t necessary to cut it. The skin was crisp and golden brown. I enjoyed the medley of veg, particularly the pattypan squash and the white asparagus. The cauliflower preparations appeared in three forms, one almost raw , one floret that had been split and caramelized on one side, and more cauliflower in the gnochhi( underneathe the duck in the picture). The executive chef Brad Horen is an artist no doubt, I was impressed with the aesthetics of both plates, and our dessert tasting plate later on. My hyper-critical points would mostly be about temperature, I found the puree of cauliflower to be a bit off-putting. I was expecting more sour in the sour cherry reduction, and the glaze was very subtle, where I was hoping for it to be more of the star of the dish. The gnocchi had good flavour, but it wasn’t as pillowy as I expected especially since ricotta was incorporated into the dough. For 28 bones, the portion size was fair, and the quality of the produce was on point.
J ordered a speciality coffee, which our server dropped off without telling us what was in it, until we asked later on, and we also gave into temptation and ordered the dessert tasting platter($21), When in Rome right?
The platter was huge, and wow, it really won us over, it was impeccable. A large martini glass was full with light and airy lemon trifle( would eat many of these if I could), two logs of chocolate pate and candied almonds, coconut Laduree-style mini-macarooon sandwiches with chocolate filling, and a scoop of sour cherry ice cream. Some of the garnishes included a tart gooseberry, fresh and sour apricot , peach/nectarine slice, berry coulis, a chocolate adhesive paint swipe, and some crumbled brittle for texture.
The macaroons were otherworldly, I’ve never seen them made this small before. The ice cream was rich and velvety, definitely homemade, although similar to the sour cherry glaze on the duck, it didn’t deliver in flavour. It seemed like more of a subtle black cherry flavour. When I think of sour cherry, I think of sour cherry preserves that I put on bread with goats cheese for breakfast in Turkey. The chocolate pate was dense and smooth with beautiful bitter chocolate notes.
Sorry for the long-winded review folks, but this type of meal deserved all the scrutiny I could muster up. In the end, I would go back in a blink of an eye. Great quality for your money, and a beautiful setting on the patio overlooking the water. The live music was a sexy touch. The service was decent, but I was more into the food.