Update February 26, 2013: The Moon Under Water is still open but under new management. I haven't been in a year and a half so can't say how this has affected the quality of the food and beer.
There is no end of talk here in North America about the “English Pub Experience”. We imagine quaint little buildings in the country where rumpled men in patched jackets talk about the weather, the footie, and make off-color jokes about their wives. Where a barman with rolled-up sleeves serves pints of nameless “lager”, “ale” and “bitter” from great brass taps and sets them down on the dark, polished bar. If a disagreement should arise it can be settled with a game of darts or, if absolutely necessary, a gentlemanly bout of fisticuffs outside after which the winner helps the loser to his feet and then buys him a drink.
|Come in, have a laugh, get stabbed.|
When I was living in England with Nicky the television liked to remind us that “country pubs” were closing at about the rate of one a day. In the pubs that remain you are more likely to find teenagers in short skirts screeching football songs than you are anyone who wants to talk about the weather. The barman is still there but he’s pouring out pints of Budweiser, Carling and Strongbow Cider to ratfaced men with wispy moustaches and the social graces of fire ants. If he can be bothered to put down his mobile phone long enough to work the taps, that is. Disagreements, if they arise, are settled with a knife in your back, or if absolutely necessary, a savage kicking outside by a group of hoodied jackals, one of whom will use his mobile phone to record the event for posterity.
It makes me wonder where The Moon Under Water fits into all this - advertised as an “English-style” pub it doesn’t look or feel particularly English and the menu is caught somewhere between the Old & New Worlds. It’s neither Coronation Street nor Clockwork Orange but the food is hearty and filling and their session ales are the best English beers I’ve tasted in the three years since coming home.
The restaurant itself is spacious, with tables a good distance apart, and it feels almost like a converted warehouse space or something like it. It’s nicely appointed with some very pretty (and expensive) original art and a smattering of sports paraphernalia. Considering that so many other places around the GVRD have more televisions than Best Buy (I’m looking at you, West Coast Tap House) I was expecting to find at least one here but came up empty and I cannot tell you how refreshing that is. Overall, the Moon is very comfortable even if conversation with neighbouring tables is unlikely unless one or both of you take up yodelling.
Orders are placed at the bar & you pay beforehand, in the English pub style. Some might have an issue with this but I prefer it as you’re free to go once you’re finished – there’s no wait for the bill. My only problem with having this reduced style of service here is that in England tipping is not compulsory and when it is done it is not to the level expected in North America. I find it hard to swallow tipping 15-20% at the beginning of a meal with no clue as to the level of service you’re about to receive. That said our server was very welcoming and made sure to keep checking in on us.
It was mid-afternoon when we arrived at the Moon and left the Monte Carlo in the lot. There were four of us but only two eating and we had our choice of spots. I was thinking about Blue Moon Wings ($9.95) followed by a steak & kidney pie ($12.95). Nicky only wanted a plate of onion rings & I said a pint of bitter sounds fine.
The Blue Moon Wings were covered in a mixture of blue cheese and hot sauce, a combination I don’t often see. The two elements made for a very creamy, spicy pairing and the heat they generated didn’t fade for a while after finishing. The only other plate of blue cheese & hot sauce wings I’ve tried in Victoria is over at The Beagle in Cook Street village and these were considerably better. It should be mentioned too that these wings were only lightly battered, making them less heavy than other offerings around town. Kelsey’s at Tillicum Mall is particularly notorious for over-battered wings.
Some people shrink from eating organ meats, which I have never understood. We’ve already divested the animal of its life and skin – isn’t it adding insult to injury if we then say “the rest of you is not good enough for my intestinal tract”? Besides, I’m still convinced that one day a cow is going to use his hoof to scrawl “Let my people go” in the dirt and we’re all going to collectively shit our pants and become Vegans, so we may as well enjoy as much of the cow as we can until then.
The Moon Under Water’s steak & kidney pie didn’t disappoint; it’s made-in-house pastry was tender and flaky, and the gravy, made with the house Bitter, was thick and rich without being cloying. My only real complaint about the meal is that the fries were a bit soggy.
The Moon’s award winning Blue Moon Bitter was the perfect accompaniment to everything and, as I’ve said, the best English-style ale I’ve had since coming back to Canada. It’s a strong-tasting beer that manages to stay very smooth and at only 3.8% you can enjoy a couple without being laid flat out.
It feels as though I’ve spent most of this review criticising the Moon Under Water when, in fact, I very much enjoyed my visit.
The service is efficient and amiable, the food good and reasonably priced and the restaurant itself open, airy and welcoming. The location, next to the Bay Street Bridge, is out of the way and not likely to attract foot traffic, particularly in the evening when the Rock Bay area transforms into Victoria’s “hoe stroll”, but the Moon’s “no tow” policy means that you can drive there, take a cab home if you’ve had a few too many & your car will still be waiting for you in the morning. The decor may be as British as Madonna but if you want fantastic English beer in a relaxed setting then the Moon Under Water is the closest you can get without a young man in a hoodie breaking a beer glass across your face.