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Playing with fire: Tofino's new all-day restaurant Roar is an instant hot spot (PHOTOS)

In a hotel that's all about rebelling against the ordinary, this new restaurant is a worthy destination of its own

There's the "roar" of the ocean, the "roar" of fire, and the "roar" of a rebellious crowd speaking out, and it's the spirit of those three that inspired Roar, a new restaurant that's worth the trek to Tofino.

Roar is the onsite restaurant of Hotel Zed Tofino. While the hotel made its debut back in late August 2020, Roar didn't light the stoves until this May, but it's easy to see how it's already become a real hot spot.

The retro hotel has really been shaking things up in Tofino, and Roar is doing much the same - albeit with a contemporary vibe. 

Though the decor is steeped in surf culture kitsch meets beach bungalow charm (there are even rotary phones at the booths for calling other tables), the menu is rooted in the now and the local.

Restaurant's Vancouver connection

Roar was created in consultation with a Vancouver icon in the culinary scene, Eric Pateman, who has been a long-time champion of Canadian food. He's no stranger to launching dynamic restaurants in popular destinations; his Edible Canada at Granville Island spent over a decade - in various iterations - pushing the boundaries of what it means to "eat local." 

But Roar's incredible menus were the handiwork of Executive Chef Kaelhub Cudmore, whose own experiences on Vancouver Island (Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge, Fairmont Empress Victoria) and around the globe - including working for renowned chef Thomas Keller aboard a cruise ship - led him to shape an exciting roster of dishes that reflect the intersection of the sea, forest, and fire. 

The breakfast menu, offered daily from 7 to 11 a.m., is more like a brunch experience, explains Cudmore. To that end, a humdrum weekday morning meal is turned on its head by some of Roar's creative a.m. options, like crispy smashed yams with poached eggs and "that green sauce," a gently spicy jolt to wake you up. Global influences come into play with the Breakfast Pupusas or kofta with a lemon shakshuka.

There's a savoury barley porridge or chia pudding if you prefer to attack breakfast with your spoon. They're also firing off daily breakfast specials, for that element of surprise. Even a given, like an avocado toast, has an unexpected visual impact - talk about turning your typical hotel breakfast on its side, this version is an upright wedge that looks almost like a cake slice with its "frosting" of creamy avocado and rosettes of caraway lox. 

By lunchtime, though, it's a whole other - and smaller - menu, focusing on salads, sandwiches, and some entree plates. Charcoal-Fired Rhino Ribs aren't made from actual rhino, the meat is pork and it's punched with a rub made from local coffee roaster Rhino - just one of the many local partnerships showcased at Roar. You'll get licks of the open flame in this dish, along with the finger-licking tender ribs.

Playing with fire all day long

The fire is giving an assist to even the salads, like one made with grilled broccoli and kale that comes studded with smoked jowl and farmhouse cheese for a hint of tang. The most exciting item could well be the wild card - the lunchtime "Seasonal Crop Special" which will change based on what's in season and on hand. This was a standout during my lunch visit: griddled house-made crumpets with goat cheese, and fresh cherry tomatoes and strawberries with a balsamic drizzle. Straddling a fine line between sweet and savoury, the dish was an absolute summer dream.

Dinner, of course, is the big show at Roar. The bigger menu really offers something for everyone, including plant-based options, and takes every advantage of the bounty of local waters as well as what the fire can bring to a dish. Though I didn't order the Flambadou Grilled Beach Oysters, being seated with a direct view of the hot section of the open kitchen I was able to watch it being made a few times in the evening - a spectacle that pairs a lesser-known kitchen tool, the flambadou, with a lot of fiery bursts of flame. The flambadou dispatches chicken fat onto the shucked oysters on the grill and creates a whoosh of fire.

I had my oysters on the eye-popping seafood tower, which has a base of a half dozen of some B.C. gems on a tiered and swivelling wooden apparatus. Other levels of the hand-made tower included things like candied smoked salmon, grilled prawns, and scallops, with a number of sauces for dipping.

Diners can opt to do other share-plates, like whole-grilled fish or a Tomahawk steak. But any dish is easily shareable, even a towering house-ground burger that is cooked to your choice of done-ness and tricked out with pork crackling, edam, iceberg lettuce, roasted garlic aioli, piled on a smoked potato brioche bun. This juicy, lux monster is only on the dinner and late-night menu, and Cudmore said he created it with surfers in mind - it's a major refuel to tuck into after a day of catching serious Tofino waves.

Rebelling against the ordinary

Forget meat for a moment: ever had a watermelon steak? One of Roar's current vegan and gluten-free options is a "steak" made from watermelon compressed with chamomile tea and mint then seared on the grill and torched for a little extra char. It's got a very different texture from fresh-cut watermelon, and is dressed up with chermoula and roasted asparagus; it's a very exciting dish that exemplifies how Roar, like Hotel Zed's mantra, is rebelling against the ordinary.

If you manage to save room for dessert, you'll find hints of fire even in a cold dish like Roar's riff on a Baked Alaska. Theirs has a graham sponge base, smoked chocolate sorbet, and a meringue shell. It's called the Baked Tofino, and this reboot of a campfire classic even comes with a big chocolate "fire" and the meringue looks like an ocean wave. I would be remiss to not mention my son wholeheartedly endorses Roar's Fresh Doughnut Dunkers - another interactive slam-dunk. 

There's a lot of creativity on display at Roar, but it's not all tricks - the food is fantastic and the restaurant, from the indoor seats to the patio, is a really fun place to be. The bar is headed up by the award-winning global sensation Dinah Kisil, and features delicious craft cocktails, boozy and not. B.C. beer and wine mingle with global pours on the drinks list, too. 

Next door, Roar operates a daytime "Beachside Provisions" shop, serving up fresh coffee, pastries and quick hand-held bites, along with fresh seafood you can pack to-go for a beach or forest picnic. One wall is dedicated to local items from local artisans and makers, making it a must-visit while you're at the restaurant or staying at the hotel. 

Hotel Zed Tofino is an incredible place to stay, but Roar is a worthy destination of its own when you're in town. That said, Hotel Zed's hospitable vibes extend to anyone passing through, literally - there's even a carpeted bike path segment that cuts through the lobby. Check out their shag rugs in the sunken living room, the carefully curated tchotchkes in every nook and cranny, take a spin on the private disco room's lighted dance floor, and see if you can figure out how to open the secret door to the retro arcade while you're there.

Roar is located inside Hotel Zed at 1258 Pacific Rim Highway in Tofino