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Ship Shape

Dartmouth's Ship Victory is someone's basement-bar fantasy come to life. Melissa Buote takes the captain's wheel

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It's hard to miss the sails on the mast in front of the Ship Victory Restaurant & Lounge. The sign, which completes the pub's intricate boat theme, is almost like the X that marks the spot of a neighbourhood pub that doesn't have a neighbourhood. Surrounded by a sea of dusky parking lots, it feels vaguely like it's in the middle of nowhere.

I head to the pub early on a Saturday night with my friends Mark and Rebecca. Aside from a few faces at the bar, the dining room is virtually empty. We're guessing, based on the area, that it's more of a lunch spot.

We're given our choice of seats and scoot into a large, curving booth at the front of the room, which is afforded some privacy by the ship's wheel that looms in front of it. From that perch we have a great view of the dining room, with cordage and pulleys, portholes, pictures of boats and bits of seafaring memorabilia. It's a great-looking space, grounded in an earnest quirkiness that can't help but charm, like someone's basement-bar fantasy come to life.

Our server is affable and accommodating. He quickly brings us two Olands ($4.34) and a 20-ounce Rickard's on tap ($6.08), the only size draught they have. The draught is poured well and tastes clean.

We start with an order of wings ($9). They are big and meaty, with a slightly crispy coating. The sauce isn't incredibly hot, but it has a nice bite to it. They're good. Mark asks for a honey garlic sauce on the side, for what he calls a "hot cold combo" where you dip the hot wings into the cool honey garlic sauce. I'm skeptical, but our server is happy to provide the sauce so we get experimental. Frankly, it's kind of awesome.

I decide on the one-piece fish and chips ($4.50), which the menu calls the "best in town hands down!" Rebecca gets the hot turkey sandwich ($7), switching out her fries for mashed potatoes ($2) and Mark gets the prime rib ($14), which is one of the daily specials.

The fish arrives, looking like a tiny golden whale beached on a mountain of French fries. Two little packets of vinegar, little plastic tubs with tartar sauce and dry, forgettable coleslaw are served on the side. The home-cut fries are tasty and the fish is well-cooked, tender and flaky with a crispy batter. I don't know if it is "hands down the best in town," but it's good.

The sandwich is a definitive diner experience. Two spongy slabs of white bread packed with tender, moist turkey are made slightly gooey by loads of pre-prepared gravy. Ice-cream-scoop dollops of a standard potato mash and a clinical pile of buttery carrots round out the plate. The carrots---fresh, not frozen---are cooked just a little too long, one of those things that, while not technically "right," doesn't feel wrong.

The potatoes and carrots are also served with the prime rib, which is a steak, not a roast, a specific we never thought to clarify. It has nice grill marks across it, but one slice in makes it apparent that it is closer to medium-well than the rare that was requested. It's still quite juicy and tastes OK, so Mark soldiers on. An added zip from horseradish or au jus would have been a nice touch.

Our server checks in on us now and then to clear plates and see how we're doing, letting us finish our beer in peace before we wrap up our chit chat and head out.

To be perfectly honest, the food is not great. But it's certainly not bad, it's cheap and it's plentiful. The real draw here is the atmosphere. And at the end of the day, the Ship Victory is the type of place you go to get a beer and some food, not some food and a beer.

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