In a word, “euuw” was my reaction
(“gross” wasn’t in the vernacular yet) when I was a kid and saw a tin of
Campbell’s oxtail soup on a grocer’s shelf. Behind the red and white label I
pictured a coiled-up tail, a cow tail really, for I’d never seen an ox never
mind its tail, still covered in brownish hide, the hairy tuft intact at the
end, floating in dark broth.
I must have been as fascinated as I
was repulsed, for I recall quietly asking my mom about this oxtail soup and how
it was made, and if it really had an oxtail inside. She explained that it
wasn’t made from oxtails any more, but beef bones and left it at that.
All of these memories surfaced last
week when we were staying at the Wickaninnish Inn plunked right on the beach at
Tofino. This is a newer, more uptown version of the old cedar-sided Wick Inn
that used to be on Long Beach until it was razed by fire in the mid-90s and was
converted to an interpretative centre for the park. The only thing the same is
the name, and a similar, spectacular view, for the McDiarmid family has branded
the place inside and out with quality, including the kitchen, where chef Andrew
Springett, who is leaving shortly, put the Wick on the culinary map.
Everything we ate there — the mango
mousses, the trademark seafood “potlatch” — was spectacular. But the one dish
that had me close to swooning was the oxtail soup. Consommé, to be exact, with
such a deeply meaty and rich, complex flavour that it seemed out-of-this-world
that it was carried in such a clear broth.
Each spoonful was restorative, in the
sense of the original meaning of the word “restaurant”, mainly because we’d
been out all day on Chesterman Beach, chasing the waves and the gulls, with
salt spray and spring rains chilling us to the bone.
When I ordered my oxtail soup, my
mother’s words echoed in my head, and so I asked our kind waiter to check and
see if really was made with an oxtail, for if there ever was a place that would
serve an such an authentic dish as this in B.C., this was it, or Sooke Harbour
And it was. A genuine oxtail, fresh
from a ranch in High River, Alberta, south of Calgary, was at the heart of it