Tofino is a dining destination on Vancouver Island and the newest top table to get your west coast dining on is Roar, with a wood-fired kitchen in a cool space with a vintage surfing vibe.
Cinda Chavich photos
By CINDA CHAVICH
I’m finding it hard to stay focused on my upcoming dinner date as I enter the new Hotel Zed in Tofino.
My stomach may be growling but my brain is on overload. Before I even get near the entrance to Roar, the hotel’s new “live fire” restaurant, there’s a gauntlet of whimsical diversions to check out — from the multi-coloured bike lane winding through the lobby past a sunken avocado green shag ‘living room’, to a replica hippy VW van, recreated entirely in driftwood, gracing the garden.
In a snug space, hidden behind a retro teak wall unit, Ms Pacman shares the floor with other video games that remind me of my misspent youth.
I’ll get back to the psychic’s palm-reading den and the glittery, Donna Summer-esque, mini-disco later.
Now it’s time to eat, and my nose takes me directly into the restaurant. The aroma of charred, smoky meat and grilled seafood is wafting from the open kitchen where a wood-fired grill dominates the soaring space.
There's an open kitchen and a smoky, wood-fired charcoal grill at Roar in Tofino.
Roar is the first new hotel restaurant in Tofino in seven years and the excitement in the room is palpable. This tourist-dependent town is ready to welcome new faces, and several have arrived specifically to open Roar, including executive chef Kaelhub Cudmore and bar manager Dinah Kisil. Both are present and enthusiastically share their passion for this new project as my dinner unfolds.
Chef Cudmore grew up on Vancouver Island and arrives from Victoria where he most recently worked as the banquet chef at the Empress Hotel. Manager Emma Woodward hails from Britain and her resume includes opening restaurants at the Fairmont Banff Springs, while assistant GM Kisil is an award-winning mixologist from Calgary, who honed her skills behind the American Bar at London’s Savoy Hotel.
It’s all the brainchild of Victoria’s Mandy Farmer, the president/CEO of Accent Inns and creator of the company’s funky Hotel Zed subset. With locations in Victoria and Kelowna, all channelling a fun, retro vacation motel vibe, Hotel Zed recently added Tofino to the mix with a $20 million redevelopment of the former Jaimie’s Rainforest Inn. Roar is the first hotel restaurant Farmer has designed and will operate herself, the concept developed with the help of Vancouver culinary consultant Eric Pateman, and her team.
Roar is all about cooking with fire, featuring everything from beach oysters to ribs and salmon grilled over a wood and charcoal grill, with an oven that tops out at a searing 900 degrees and a large smoker dedicated to house-smoked salmon and other delicacies.
Cudmore and his team are learning the quirks of wood fire cooking as they go, experimenting with equipment and techniques borrowed from around the world.
The Fire-Hung Chicken is literally suspended over the glowing coals in an oval iron cage as it rotates and slowly roasts. And the big beach oysters are cooked with a drizzle of hot fat from a conical “flambedou”, a cast iron funnel that’s heated in the embers until red hot to deliver a shot of fiery rendered fat over grilled meat or fish.
There’s a perfectly crispy sear on the tender cubes of pork belly that come with Cudmore’s deconstructed Grilled Potato and Roasted Pork Belly Salad with charred asparagus, and the house-cured Salmon Pastrami is served with sweet, caramelized parsnips and seedy house-made crackers.
Cage for Fire-Hung Chicken at Roar
Grilled Potato and Roasted Pork Belly Salad with charred asparagus at Roar.
Carnivores will lean to the smoky beef brisket with charred salsa and tortillas, while vegans can try his homemade mushroom tofu, served with a comforting leek and miso congee and crispy leeks.
Creative desserts from the restaurant’s pastry chef include a playful selection of donuts with smoky caramel and chocolate dipping sauces, and a unique roly-poly Roar Cake, a kind of bread pudding with dulce de leche.
All is served up in an airy, open space with a vintage rumpus room vibe and an open kitchen, the smoky aromas of grilled food adding to the beach party atmosphere. Make a call from a funky rotary dial phone on your table or take a seat near the pass to commune with the chefs as they feed the fire.
There’s a big outdoor patio and a bar across one end of the room where mixologist Kisil works her cocktail magic.
cocktails that will take your meal to another level. A nod to the playful mid-century vibe of Roar, means Tiki drinks are also part of the mix.
Roar is a hotel restaurant, so there’s a breakfast and lunch menu, too (think griddled crumpets or kofta and lemon shakshuka, Rhino coffee rubbed ribs and charred corn fritter and avocado wraps). Cudmore favors seasonal, local ingredients but he has Middle Eastern roots and a soft spot for Moroccan flavours, so you’ll also see an exotic twists like his own Ras El Hanout spice on the menu.
Next door to the restaurant is the little Roar Beach Provisions, with ready-to-eat sandwiches, hand pies, salads and baked goods to take out, along with fresh oysters and other seafood, to sling onto your own fire on the beach. There’s also a good selection of locally made products, so you can take home one of the chef’s hot sauces, a jar of wild blackberry and bourbon jam from The Hobbyist or one of the exceptional artisan chocolate bars created by Tofino’s Ouest patisserie.
The property sits along the main highway (and newly expanded bike path) that connects Tofino with Ucluelet, just across the road from Chesterman Beach. With a rain forest trail leading from the back of the hotel to a spa space and the Tofino Inlet, it’s also a great place to take a SUP or kayak (available to rent on site) into calm waters.
Farmer is a keen cyclist and community builder, who wants Toficians to enjoy this new hotel as local hangout, a place to wheel in from the bike path for a beer by a firepit on the patio or grab a seat at the bar. She’s included a bike maintenance station open to anyone passing by and a small, museum-style display on one wall in the lobby, honoring Tofino’s rebellious streak and the historic War in the Woods demonstrations to halt logging on Meares Island, one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in Canada. As Tribal Park Allies, Roar adds 1% to every restaurant bill so the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation can continue the restoration and guardianship of their lands, where the hotel sits.
Roar is a spot to channel the roar of surf, the roar of a crackling fire and the roar of rebellion, in this spectacular natural setting at the end of the road.
I think a look into the crystal ball in the psychic’s den would predict a future of roaring good times, too.