The way Brandon Guile sees it, Fluid Bar and Grill is a little bit of the big city in the Comox Valley.
Along with co-owners Michael McPhee and Jay Kinash, operating owner Guile opened the Courtenay restaurant five years ago to fill an “upscale/casual lounge-style restaurant” niche they felt was missing from the Valley.
While Kinash is from Winnipeg, Guile and McPhee (descended from founding father Joseph McPhee) returned in the early part of the decade after working on the Lower Mainland for about 10 years.
As they envisioned it, Fluid caters “to the 20s to 60s crowd and offers an environment … not of style but more of a city feel, late-night lounge, giant tapas menu, great food, good quality – everything on our menu is made from scratch,” Guile explains.
He says the Fluid braintrust listens to what customers want so they can make on-target adjustments.
“It’s the little things, it’s the details … we listen to the customers about price point, we listen to the customers about quantity of food … service aspects – everything that goes into building a good restaurant and its reputation.”
After a tough sophomore year in what Guile calls a tough market with “lots of good establishments,” Fluid bounced back, he recalls, once the owners found the right person as their executive chef.
Adrian Merrilees, a New Zealander with experience working for the Hyatt group, heads a four-chef team. Jeremy Thompson is the sous chef. Chefs Bob Hullin and Benjamin Kelly complete the lineup.
“They’re all highly skilled, and come in here with accolades, working for some of the finest restaurants on the Lower Mainland and across the globe.”
After chatting with Guile, it was time to put the Fluid chefs and servers to the test.
Server Scott Taylor was extremely helpful with wine suggestions and Guile had arranged for two platters smothered with appetizers for me and Bob, my dinner companion. It was a good sampling from Fluid’s large, 18-item starters menu that includes lots of seafood as well as some Asian, veggie and spicy dishes.
The tightly rolled black bean cigars would have been fine on their own, but a piquant dipping sauce greatly embellished the taste. The fondito and lobster dips were impossible to resist, but the crab cakes and fish tacos were my favourites.
After such a smorgasbord of starter delights, my appetite had been blunted, but I gamely perused Fluid’s expansive menu, which offers soup and bread, salads, bowls, pizza and pasta, burgers, quesadillas, steaks and main courses.
You could eat at Fluid every day for quite a while without repeating dishes.
Lobster ravioli caught my eye, and Taylor later confided that is one of his favourites. Nonetheless, I opted for a delicious prime rib with Yorkshire pudding, seasonal veggies and rice.
Bob was very satisfied with his choice of the coq au vin special.
My belly bulging more than normal, I simply could not eat anything else, not even a thin wafer. Bob, not a stranger at Fluid, and I went away totally sated.
Apparently, that’s the objective.
As a value-added item to help educate customers about how drinks affect their blood-alcohol percentage, Guile says Fluid bought a breathalyzer recently in response to tougher driving laws. There’s also a shuttle service courtesy of Comox Taxi.
Until what Guile calls the “.05 scare” for a few months, Fluid experienced three years of steady growth.
The Fluid name, by the way, doesn’t not refer to drinking.
As Guile explains, it’s meant to represent the fluid, enjoyable experience the three owners set out to create for their customers in a building formerly occupied by McDonald’s.
• • •
The phone number for Fluid Bar and Grill at 1175 Cliffe Ave. is 250-338-1500. For more information, visit www.fluidbarandgrill.com.