By Stephanie Pinaud
The “star of the sea,” we’re informed, is the meaning behind the name for Marilena Cafe + Raw Bar—Victoria’s latest dining hot spot.
It’s an apt name seeing as the menu truly celebrates the ocean, with multiple ways of enjoying its bounty—from fresh sashimi and oshi sushi to miso-glazed sablefish and crispy-skin striped seabass.
Situated in The Rotunda at 1525 Douglas Street, Marilena features a warm, contemporary dining room that peers into the open-concept kitchen. The lobby and bar greet guests with an impressive library-style wall of spirits, where there are two cocktails on tap (an old fashioned and a negroni) along with made-to-order options.
The kitchen is helmed by chef Kristian Eligh, who returns to his hometown of Victoria after building an impressive resume—including stints at New York’s Jean-Georges, Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts, and most recently, Vancouver’s Hawksworth.
“I said I would never come back, but the island was calling,” Eligh says. “I certainly wanted to get my family—my two young girls—back here, where I grew up, because it’s so near and dear to me.”
Behind the sushi bar, many Vancouverites might recognize chef Clark Park from his days at Vancouver’s Miku (Marilena restaurant director Aaron Matsuzaki also spent some time at the celebrated Coal Harbour restaurant). At Marilena, diners can expect the same quality and beautiful presentation that they’ve come to know from Park.
“For me to hunt down a phenomenal sushi chef and for him to curate a program that goes hand-in-hand with what we’re doing in the main kitchen is super cool,” says Eligh. “And I think as a diner it allows for a lot more exploration.”
And while the seafood offerings are a popular choice, those looking for a land-based dish can enjoy some meatier options, including decadent 48-hour beef short rib and tender Wagyu striploin.
Marilena is the latest culinary offering from Toptable Group, which is known for its high-end restaurants including Araxi and Bar Oso (Whistler), Blue Water Cafe and Elisa (Vancouver), and Oceans (New York).
Wine: Charme de l’Ile, Averill Creek Vineyard, Vancouver Island
Sake: Oku No Matsu, Yusa, Fukushima
Cocktail: Old fashioned (Four Roses Bourbon, Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Elijah Craig Rye, cane, bitters)
Hawaiian kampachi crudo: Deliciously citrusy and easy to share, with stunning presentation.
Charred Sakura Farms pork belly: Three large pieces served with a sticky ssamjang glaze and sesame seed garnish.
Crispy lobster tacos: Three tacos, moderately sized in a crunchy shell.
Oshi aburi sablefish: Six pieces that are beautifully charred and will undoubtedly melt in your mouth.