Story by Adrian Brijbassi
DUNCAN, BRITISH COLUMBIA — When I speak with Daniel Hudson it’s right after I have dined at his elegant restaurant and the dichotomy between who he is and what he does strikes me as intriguing. Hudson is an everyman, a humble immigrant from Britain who is chasing an opportunity to feed the people of Cowichan Valley with the best food he possibly can. Juxtapose that humility with his cuisine — which is brilliant, highly ambitious and refined fare — and you can see why I would be so curious.
Hudson’s on First is a neighbourhood restaurant only because you haven’t heard enough about it to make it a destination restaurant — a place such as the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler or Fleur de Sel in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Those are places travellers seek out because they want to cross it off their fine-dining must-try list.
“I don’t like pretentious food,” says Hudson, who retains his British brogue and speaks with such conviction when he talks about cooking that you wonder if he might go Gordon Ramsay on you. “I enjoy what we’re doing here because it is exactly the type of food I want to cook. It would be a waste of time otherwise. But we’re doing the sort of plates that we like and we’re fortunate that so far we have customers who like it too.”
One of Vancouver Island’s Best Restaurants
What Hudson’s on First does is prepare French cuisine flawlessly and with the contemporary flair that diners expect of a great restaurant. A terrine of hamhock served with foie gras and brioche was a highlight on the night I dined. For such a bold dish, the flavours and textures were subtle, epitomizing the best of Hudson’s on First. Despite a combination of flavours and ingredients that you would think are a challenge to put together on a plate, Hudson manages to pull it off with precision and care.
“This is the kind of restaurant that people come to for special occasions. They expect a certain level of quality and we know that. We know it’s important to them and that makes it even more important to us,” he says.
There’s artistry involved too. The plates are beautifully presented, the wait staff is professional and attentive, the wine list is small but well thought out. It all adds up to what is undeniably one of the best restaurants on Vancouver Island and one that is worth the short drive from Victoria to sample.
Hudson’s on First is a showcase of the Cowichan Valley’s culinary might. Many ingredients are sourced from the bounty of organic produce and sustainably harvested seafood in this region that ranked among the 2015 Vacay.ca Best Places to Visit in Canada. The Cowichan Valley retains a deep sense of community and gastronomic best practices because many of its citizens like Hudson have ventured here to chase an entrepreneurial dream that is based on creating a quality product or experience, not simply a making-money endeavour.
“There are enough people here who like the food that I make to allow me to keep making it,” Hudson says with earnest matter-of-factness. “And at the end of the day that’s all you want, isn’t it?”
MORE ABOUT HUDSON’S ON FIRST
Address: 163 First Street, Duncan, BC (see map below)
Menu Price Range: Main courses for dinner range from $21-$34 (menu items change often). Lunch entrees (served 11 am-2 pm, Tuesday-Friday) range from $18-$21. Weekend brunch entrees (served from 10 am-2 pm) range from $12-$21.
You Must Order: Whatever terrine is on the menu. Currently, it is a chicken-and-chestnut option ($15), served with brioche, pickled onions and cranberry mustard.