In a pristine slice of Columbia sits a nondescript, brick structure near several similarly unobtrusive buildings in an office park. Even the nearby McDonald's is toned down per the planned community's bylaws. Outwardly, we had no clue what to expect when entering our destination: Victoria Gastro Pub.
What a pleasant surprise. It's almost like Harry Potter's secret platform 9-3/4, where Hogwarts students slip through a wall and suddenly find themselves amid a magical world of fellow wizards. At Victoria Gastro Pub, you spin through ordinary revolving doors and, presto chango, land in a beautifully decorated tavern setting of dark wood, wrought iron, and tin ceilings.
The space, once a Bennigan's, is partitioned into smaller, cozier rooms with names like Oxford Circus and Black Forest Road. Once seated, we were greeted with a friendly waitress and beer-batter biscuits, a cross between a beaten biscuit and light-as-a-feather shortcake. They were gobbled up in no time.
Our server explained that the menu features English pub fare with a twist. With offerings like duck fat fries, Kobe burgers, and pork tenderloin with a strawberry-rhubarb-cherry chutney, we understood.
Our favorite starter was the warm frisée and spinach salad—an exquisite mix of greens with smoked duck confit, bacon, blue cheese, and poached egg. We were also pleased with the mussels in a rich beer sauce with an appealing zing of orange peel, and a plate of Brie, blue, and Irish porter cheeses with homemade pickles and grainy mustard. The accompanying crackers were ordinary. But who cares with this selection?
We were still working on our appetizers when the onslaught of entrées began. We felt in a bit of a tizzy as dishes were busily removed or shuffled to the side in order to accommodate the new arrivals. Besides this timing glitch, our service was excellent.
We were again impressed with the kitchen's creativity, especially with the fish and chips. The "fish" is crisp, deep-fried sea bass stuffed with crab and shrimp, and complemented by rémoulade, Bavarian beer vinegar, and traditional fries. Another dazzling entrée was an artistic plate of beautifully white halibut over a crab-and-pea risotto in a pool of tomato coulis and basil vinaigrette. And we couldn't help but gaze in amazement at the braised beef short rib, a succulent, meaty slab with a he-man bone jutting out. Served atop a rich cauliflower mac (actually, large penne) and cheese, it's a chest-thumping kind of dish, which we cheerfully devoured.
We wanted dessert, but asked our server for a little time before continuing. We needed to enjoy the co-mingling of savory flavors before turning our attention to the sweeter side of the menu.
Desserts are baked on the premises and offer several temptations. We reveled in the amazingly tender apple dumpling in a vanilla and balsamic caramel sauce, an individual English trifle, and a chocolate praline cake before heading through the revolving doors to a less comforting world outside.