OUTLINING HIS plans to launch a new restaurant for the legendary Toptable Group, chef Kristian Eligh sounds positively gleeful.
“Opening a restaurant is thrilling,” he says. “It’s almost unfathomable how many hours are spent understanding the flow and the layout, guessing and second-guessing without standing in it. But that’s the most exciting thing: seeing it come to life.”
The as yet unnamed 100-seat restaurant (plus patio seating for 30) will open this fall in downtown Victoria, in a bright new glass building opposite the heritage City Hall. It will represent a homecoming for Eligh, who grew up and studied in Victoria but left for Vancouver in his early 20s to seek bigger challenges, which he found in Diva at the Met. “Several of the Diva crew were part of Culinary Team Canada, and they opened my eyes to what was possible,” he says.
Post-Diva, Eligh was hand-picked by Jean-Georges Vongerichten to launch his licensed restaurant in the Shangri La Hotel in Vancouver as chef de cuisine. But it was during a seven-year stint alongside chef David Hawk-sworth, at the fine-dining staple Hawksworth as well as the more casual Nightingale, that Eligh developed his own style and cuisine. After a brief corporate culinary development gig at Browns (“They’re great, but I’m a kitchen guy through and through,” he admits), Eligh turned to Toptable, the Vancouver-based hospitality organization founded by Jack Evrensel and now controlled by the Aquilini Group. It seems Toptable’s reputation for creative, chef-driven concepts was the chance to go home that Eligh, as a father of two young girls, had been looking for.
Details are being kept under wraps, but Eligh allows there will be a seafood-centric menu, along with a raw bar focusing on Mediterranean-style crudo rather than traditional Japanese, a “massive” vegetable focus drawing from local farms (“They are amazing here on the Island!”), a Wood Stone oven for artisanal pizzas, and a custom-build Hestan suite which has Eligh feeling like a kid in a candy store. “Their chef spokesperson is Thomas Keller—that says it all,” he observes. “It’s pretty exciting to conjure up the idea of toiling over that stove.” — NIKKI BAYLEY