The vibe has changed, but the ambiance at Cowichan’s Unsworth Restaurant remains very much the same since new operators Christie Pope and Steve Elskens took over a couple of years ago.
Situated amidst the verdant beauty of the Unsworth Vineyards, the heritage home that houses the dining spot of the same name continues to attract a devoted following. The feeling is less formal these days – a lot more casual, in fact. It seems to have more of an appeal for family gatherings, and the menu reflects that feeling.
While we adored the ‘old’ more high-end Unsworth under the direction of Brad Boisvert, we found the new iteration just as pleasing. The restored historic home, built in the early 1900s, seems to be able to morph with ease and grace – it’s a classic, no matter which way you look at it.
Christie and Steve have spent many years cultivating relationships with local food mongers, so there is a great emphasis on the ‘fresh local’ angle at Unsworth. The menu offers seasonal specialties integrating such delicacies as spot prawns and lamb. There are small plates for sharing, or larger offerings – all of them innovative.
We arrived for dinner on a Spring evening, when the vineyards were awash in dusky sunlight. A clutch of free-range chickens worked their way up and down the rows of grape vines as we perused the menu and enjoyed the pretty view.
I settled on a burger – but not just any burger. My husband chose the spaghettini pasta with lamb Bolognese, parmesan, mint and parsley.
Our meals arrived in good time, and I went to work on the generously-sized burger that included beef, smoked chorizo, pancetta, basil cream and sweet and spicy tomato jam. I can only say it was unlike any burger I have ever consumed – the combined flavours were a delightful surprise on the palate and had my taste buds wondering what the heck had hit them. The burger arrived with fries and a salad – no lack of food on the plate, to the point where in the end we decided we probably could have split a single order and been quite satisfied.
My husband’s pasta dish was also a nice change from the standard beef or pork Bolognese, with the flavour of the lamb coming to the forefront in the sauce.
`We finished our meal by sharing a slice of decadent hazelnut brown butter cake accompanied by caramelized pears, sour cream and whipped cream – a lovely combination that was not too sweet.
Unsworth Restaurant has also come up with the concept recently of a CSR – Community Supported Restaurant. Based on the concept of CSAs or Community Supported Agriculture produce boxes, the CSR accepts pre-paid subscriptions that get participants a set number of meals on designated nights through the winter and early Spring months. It’s a smart method of ensuring the viability of the restaurant during less busy seasons and has obviously appealed to those in the Cowichan region. Christie revealed that Unsworth had 100 subscribers last winter.
So, it’s onward and upward at Unsworth. If the operators continue going in the direction that they started from there seems to be no limit to what they can accomplish. In the meantime, we get to eat interesting food in a beautiful setting – it’s a sweet deal for all concerned.
Further information on Unsworth Restaurant, it’s hours of operation, location and menu can be found at the website:
Price rating: $$
Unsworth is located at 2915 Cameron Taggart Road in the Mill Bay area
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. 48.660453 Long. -123.589376
N 48 39.627 W 123 35.363