Tofino – Tofuno? A Vegan’s Travels in British Columbia

by L Matthews on October 9, 2012

tofino fall 2012 long beach sun

Long Beach in Tofino - I suppose it's alright, if you like that kind of thing.

This Thanksgiving weekend involved a trip to Tofino – finally! I had high hopes of renaming it Tofuno as the B&B was vegetarian- and vegan-friendly and friends had given me recommendations of places to eat. However, I like to plan for travel disasters and so took food with me, just in case. I came back with much of that food as Tofino’s pretty good for vegans and treated me well.

Arriving mid-afternoon on Saturday, after a brief trip into Tofino proper for food supplies, we were greeted at Gull Cottage by the lovely Robin and Duncan. They showed us our rooms, made our pooch feel very welcome, told us all about great places to see and eat and visit in Tofino and Ucluelet, and then brought almond milk for my tea! The trip looked set to be a success.

Picnicking to the Sound of the Pacific

Heading out to Chesterman beach, with access just opposite the B&B, we strolled the lovely compact sand, throwing a frisbee, marvelling at the surf-mist rising off the waves and generally feeling like we were on the edge of the world. Our travelmates had brought beer and we had picked up some garlic dill tofu, cranberry bread, avocados and a variety of other foodstuffs in town so we picnicked at the B&B and relaxed in the little library/movie room – even finding a book of ghost stories and a history of the Border Collie. I also learnt that trying to cable knit without a cable needle is a recipe for frustration and increased beer-drinking. Outside our little bubble there was the sound of the waves crashing and the brilliance of the stars in the lampless sky.

Vegan Strawberry Pancakes!

vegan pancakes with strawberry sauce

Chef Duncan at Gull Cottage in Tofino likes a vegan challenge and... passes, with flying strawberry-shaded colours!

The next morning I was excited to see what vegan breakfast delights Chef Duncan would rustle up and I wasn’t disappointed. A lovely fruit salad was waiting for us when we headed downstairs, as were the delightful Tarka and Bodhi, the B&B’s resident border terriers who lay at out feet during breakfast. Stacks of vegan strawberry pancakes with a delicious raspberry and strawberry sauce and fresh strawberry slices were exactly what was needed to start the day. I even hoovered up the leftovers with lashings of maple syrup and thought about eating some of the tasty looking toast from the Common Loaf bakery in town but I was too stuffed from the pancakes. Tomorrow!

A Long Long Long Beach and a Ghost (Surf) Dog

Our travelmates were heading off on a hotsprings tour, unfortunately not dog-friendly, so after dropping them off we drove down to the parking lot for the trailhead down to Long Beach. Puppy was in heaven tramping through rainforest with the smell of the sea wafting towards her and she even made a friend in a lovely lady we christened Steve. This fine black beast had no collar and may or may not have been attached to a guy wandering the forest taking pictures. Regardless, Steve stayed with us for the next hour or so as we headed along the wonderfully maintained boardwalk down to the beach where the dogs disappeared off to the waves and we caught our breath as the incredible spectacle of the aptly named Long Beach hit us.

We spent the next couple of hours wandering the sand, dogs stalking each other and wrestling and crashing through the waves beside us; it could easily have been longer as the beach just goes on and on and on, past rocky outcrops hiding pools hiding anemones, hermit crabs and odd Pacific wildlife. Reluctantly, we headed back to the bottom of the trail and climbed the steps to the car park, having lost Steve some time ago when she went ahead of us, disappearing slowly, a little black hairy dot whose presence came and went, the sand closing back up around the paw prints of our ephemeral companion.

Breakers in Tofino – Lacking Presentation but Full of Flavour

Leaving the pooch at the B&B for a much-needed snooze, we fortified ourselves with tea and headed back to town where I ducked into a gallery featuring work by local First Nations artist Roy Henry Vickers. So many of the incredible pictures had equally amazing stories to match, giving me plenty of material for next month’s novel challenge. Refraining from buying any of the work, and now regretting that, we walked the streets of Tofino, vegan and vegetarian in search of sustenance. Ending up in the nearby Breakers, a cafe on the brink of closing for the afternoon, I had a soy London fog and a falafel wrap with avocado subbed for the mayo and tzatziki. Presentation was not their forte and the service was a little lacklustre, admittedly it was post-lunch rush and closing up time, but the food was filling and delicious and, thankfully, easily vegan.

Tofino Brewing Company – It Ain’t Vegan!

tofino brewing company sign

Tofino Brewing Company, turns out they ain't vegan - just goes to show we all make mistakes...

We spent a while sitting at the harbour, after reading the plaque about the sunken Hera, wondering at the spectacle of the grand pianos, barrels of Rainier beer, and the sunken schoolhouse now educating passing fish. Reunited with the housemates we went in search of SoBo, looking to make a reservation for the evening. Alas, they were already booked out for the tables they had available for reservations so we decided to go or a sneaky pint of local Tofino Brewing Company ale at the Inn and return to town after eight for a late dinner at SoBo. The pale ale was delicious as, I am assured, was the Tofino Honey Lager. (It was still delicious, but now tainted by the fish-factor.)

UPDATE: I just learned that the Tofino Brewing Company is not vegan… using isinglass to clarify their ales and the like. Boo to them. And, boo to me for not checking in my haste to drink a locally produced pint. I shall be emailing them in the hope that, next time I visit Tofino, they’ll go vegan!

SoBo – Very Accomodating for Vegans

SoBo had come highly recommended by a number of people, including a couple of locals so I was excited to try the restaurant. The woodfired mushroom pizza was irresistible and our table of four all ordered the pizza, with a request to leave off the cheese and pesto from mine. Happily, our server asked if I’d like the chef to do something interesting in place of the missing dairy and so my pizza was delivered with delicious sweet grape tomatoes, peppers and pine nuts in addition to the medley of wild mushrooms and caramelized onion base.

sobo vegan pizza

Woodfired wild mushroom pizza at SoBo in Tofino - totally veganised, of course!

Washed down with a glass of rosé from Tantalus, a BC winery, and with fellow diners eating a mushroom tofu pocket or two as appetizers, this was a lovely dinner all round. Despite the servers’ enthusiasm for the Thanksgiving turkey dinner being served that evening I can happily report not seeing or smelling a single piece of such butchery. I did wonder at the potential for adding cranberry sauce to the mushroom pizza in place of the grape tomatoes… now there’s something I’ll try at home.

Apple Pie Oatmeal – Chef Duncan Outdoes Himself

The next morning at the B&B, my travel companions all had a mushroom, cheesy frittata for breakfast, which looked delicious but was nothing in comparison to the giant bowl of apple pie oatmeal that was placed in front of me. Chef Duncan had outdone himself and I really hope this becomes a staple of their fall breakfast repertoire as more vegans and non-vegans staying at Gull Cottage should taste this fine and sturdy breakfast, laced with cinnamon, crumbled walnuts and maple syrup. The tiny cubes of apple were cooked to perfection in all their saucy goodness and the oatmeal was long gone before I even thought to offer it to anyone else at the table (or take a picture!).

women laughing alone with salad

Imagine this is a big bowl of apple pie oatmeal - this is me, after inhaling cinnamon and maple syrup and lovely sticky apple pie goodness.

It proved so tempting that my housemate asked if there were any leftovers and after a little light clattering, Robin emerged with the tiniest of bowls of oatmeal… there had been some sampling in the kitchen it seemed and Chef Duncan might now be making apple pie oatmeal for Robin for the rest of fall and winter.

Ucluelet

Before heading back to the ferry in Nanaimo we spent a little time in Ucluelet, following a very well maintained Wild Pacific Spirit trail around the peninsula. The clouds started to roll in as we were leaving the short trail and so we searched for somewhere to stock up on food before the trip back across the island. Having googled ‘burger’ in Ucluelet we were directed towards a lot which was now fenced and contained the remnants of a demolished building. Happily, some neon signs pointed us to the Fish and Chip shop… and then we headed to The Blue Room Bistro next door… where yet another warming soy London fog (and a good one too!) was consumed, along with a mushroomy veggie burger and fries (guacamole instead of mayo and cheese). A quote from Mitch Hedberg about rice seemed a little odd on the menu which appeared to feature no rice dishes, but the variety of the rest of the menu was pretty impressive for a casual diner by the sea that is locally owned and open all year round. Puppy slept in the car in full view while we sat on the patio staring out across the bay and casually stuffing our faces.

Apples, crisps, and a bag of carrots were all that were needed to get me back to the homestead, although a roadtrip Tim Hortons pastry stop was required for some. Narrowly missing the 6.30 ferry after a quick stop at Cathedral Grove to see the beautiful old growth forest, we made it home on Thanksgiving Monday in time to make hot chocolate with thick goopy melted vegan chocolate and a dash of Frangelico. Thank you Tofino for a lovely vegan-friendly holiday, I’ll be back.

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Leave a Comment

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

katy sparrow October 9, 2012 at 20:58

The NY Times Sunday travel section just did a great piece on Tofino, so I really enjoyed reading your review after getting the other guy’s take. Freaking gorgeous idyllic paradise found! Hopefully the whole world won’t rush over there. All awesome except for the isinglass at the brewery. I think I’ll email them too so that can be remedied by the time I go to live there for the rest of my days.

Leigh October 9, 2012 at 21:06

Thanks Katy!

I read the NYT review before going and a few people told me it was out of date and some places had closed… there was also, bizarrely, a piece in the UK’s Daily Mail (a brash misguided tabloid) on Tofino which mentioned the local stitch ‘n’ bitch group (now disbanded). Maybe, if we both move there we can add a little extra vegan craftiness to the place and iron out the brewery so we can drink whilst eating and making sweaters for the cold Pacific breeze.

Cheryl October 13, 2012 at 20:12

The knits by the sea shop officially closed a couple of weeks ago and is now an online store only……..but everything else in the NY Times piece is still going strong. My shop Tofino Tea Bar was in there and have taken on hosting the knitting nights as they were popular with the locals. For a future visit my friend Leah and her husband just started a cake studio in a commercial kitchen in their house. She makes the most amazing vegan, gluten free chocolate cupcakes, that’s right they are vegan and gluten free and are moist and light. You would not believe they were if you tasted them. We sell them at my shop and they can also be found at Green Soul Organics (they often have vegan recipes being made in their kitchen) but be warned they sell out very quickly!!! Next time you come to town you should try one!

Leigh October 13, 2012 at 21:58

Hey Cheryl,

Thanks for the info! I’ll be sure to come in next time and grab a cupcake or twelve… and some tea, of course.

L

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