Duncan’s Bistro 161 – a little bit of food heaven downtown

Interior view of Duncan's Bistro 161 restaurant

High ceilings, warm colours and plenty of natural light create comfortable ambiance at Bistro 161

It wouldn’t be difficult to miss Bistro 161, but it would be very sad for anyone who is passing through Duncan and who loves great food if they did manage to bypass it.

            Over the past four decades Duncan has evolved, like several other communities on the Island, from a charmingly bucolic small town to a sprawling behemoth straddling both sides of Highway One. Its rural roots have been overwhelmed by shopping malls, big box stores, car lots and all the usual suspects in the way of chain eateries. At a glance it would appear that the place no longer has a heart or a sense of community, but that assumption is so very wrong. Take a little time to exit the busy north-south highway and head into Duncan’s quaint ‘old town’ and you will be pleasantly surprised at the eclectic mix of shops, old buildings – and one of the best places on the Island for a meal.

Pomme Frites with garlic saffron aioli at Bistro 161 in Duncan
The delectable pomme frites are served with a mouth-watering garlic saffron aioli

            Bistro 161 is located in a 130-year-old building that has been added-on-to over the years, creating a series of smaller, more intimate spaces for diners. It most definitely is not, however, what anyone could describe as fusty or crowded – high ceilings, warm colours and an abundance of natural light provide an airy, cheerful ambiance for patrons. During the warmer months a lovely outdoor patio offers al fresco dining, complete with the soothing sounds of a pretty fountain. Service is generally very good and always friendly.

Roasted yam and apple salad with honey curry vinaigrette

Roasted yam and apple salad offers a cornucopia of flavours, complemented by a honey curry vinaigrette

And then, there is the food…..some of the very best we have been fortunate to enjoy during our many travels on the Island.  We have eaten at Bistro 161 a number of times over the years and have always been impressed with the freshness and quality of the offerings.  The menu offers up interesting and innovative combinations not found in your run-of-the-mill restaurants; we have never had a meal that we didn’t enjoy immensely and appreciate for its diversity.

            The memory of our most recent visit to Bistro 161 has me salivating just at the prospect of describing what we consumed. We began by sharing a side order of shoestring pomme frites that had been lightly tossed with parsley, lemon zest and parmesan cheese.  The dipping sauce was a garlic saffron aioli that was so delicious it defies description.

            We went in differing directions for our lunch main course. I opted for a roasted yam and apple salad that included dried cranberries, toasted almonds, grapes and mixed greens, finished with a lovely light honey curry vinaigrette. My husband went with the Bistro One Sixty-One club sandwich – a beautiful fresh ciabatta bun stacked with herb-marinated chicken, smoked bacon, fresh tomatoes, caramelized onion, lettuce and a roasted red pepper pesto. It was accompanied by a flavourful bowl of the best split pea soup ever to have passed my lips.

Chicken club sandwich accompanied by pea soup
Fresh and bursting with innovative flavour, the house special chicken club sandwich, accompanied by split pea soup to die for

            Bistro 161 is owned and run by Fatima Da Silva, who grew up in Africa and developed a love of good food and cooking at a very early age.  She has assembled a talented young staff that reflects an energy and dedication to tasty – and interesting – gastronomic experiences. What a happy thing for those of us who appreciate a change from the pedestrian, everyday items found on so many restaurant menus. This place is well worth the detour off the Trans Canada Highway, no doubt about it.

            A gentle word of warning – Bistro 161 is a very busy spot. The combination of casual ambiance and amazing food are popular with both the business crowd and those just seeking a great place to enjoy a meal with friends or family.  Reservations are advised, especially if you hope to dine during the hectic lunch period.           Wheelchair accessible Further information on Bistro 161 can be found at the restaurant’s web site:


Price rating: $$ – $$$

Bistro 161 is located at 161 Kenneth Street, Duncan

GPS co-ordinates are:

 Lat. 48.7785194  Long. -123.7095869

N 48 46.711  W 123 42.575

Bistro 161 on Urbanspoon


About Shirley

More years ago than I like to remember, I completed the Journalism program at Vancouver Community College and launched straight into a career as a newspaper reporter (thanks to my journalism professor Nick Russell and an opening at the venerable daily Alberni Valley Times.) My work as a news reporter/feature writer/columnist and ultimately, newspaper and magazine editor, took me to many interesting places and introduced me to hundreds of interesting characters over the years. I loved every minute of it, but burnout caught up with me while I was trying to juggle the simultaneous editing of five trade magazines, and for 27 years I abandoned my keyboard (on a professional basis, at least) and followed my heart in a variety of other careers.
In 2010 I returned to the journalistic fold, thanks to the encouragement (nay – nagging!) of my husband. I feel no regret – only great joy to be back at the keyboard, and to be spending time interviewing interesting folks and discovering great places.

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2 Responses to Duncan’s Bistro 161 – a little bit of food heaven downtown

  1. Terry Corcoran says:

    I do enjoy your reviews – clear, descriptive and succinct. We usually “try out” locations you review which are new to us. Bistro 161 is one of our favourites and it is nice to see your positive comments displayed to encourage others to give it a try. Thank you. Terry

    • Shirley Shirley says:

      Thank you, Terry, for your feedback. We are glad that you are enjoying the website and that you are finding new places to enjoy as a result of our work.

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