Tuesday 23 May 2017

Agrius by Fol Epi, a truly European bakery, cafe and bistro

The Fol Epi bakery and Agrius restaurant on Yates Street are as close to a typical European bakery/cafexperience as you would find in Victoria.

Being a bread nerd, Fol Epi has had me hooked for years, as I used to line up to buy baguettes at their Dockside location. It used to frustrate me that one would have to go to so much effort for a simple quality baguette. Subsequently, I found that the other artisanal bakeries in town were missing the point. In France, a baguette is a simple part of the local’s daily constitution. It is not something you spend too much money on or time thinking about. It simply finds itself on the dinner table. Fol Epi has turned that simplicity into an artisanal art form. Their website tells the story on how they came to be, and it describes the work that is involved in making all their breads and pastries. However, that isn’t the object of this article.

A couple of months ago, I was delighted to discover that Fol Epi had opened a second location on Yates Street between Douglas and Blanchard.

When you walk through the Fol Epi entrance, you will find yourself immersed in a beehive of activity. With the bakery in the background and a number of smiling employees ready to take my order, I was delightfully sidetracked. My intention was simply to buy my beloved baguette, but I was quickly drawn into all of the activity, wanting to become part of it. As I moved through the line, I spotted a seat at one of the red tables on the patio. I decided to order a double espresso to secure my spot for a couple more minutes of people watching.

Waiting for my espresso, I found myself at one end of a long stainless steel and brick bar that clearly showed there was much more to this place than one might expect. The healthy, friendly busyness going on all around was indescribably irresistible and I wanted to be in three places at once! The bar was comfortable, friendly and casual. The air was filled with the distinctive smell of just baked bread that induced a feeling of comfort and well being. I just felt like that’s where I needed to be….

Fol Epi has me hooked “de nouveau!”

The following day at 2 pm, I stopped in on my way back from an appointment to pick up my daily baguette and I was welcomed in a familiar way. I’m not sure if this familiarity was in my head, but I enjoyed the way it made me feel. This friendliness once again enticed me and I found myself waiting for an espresso. To my surprise I am greeted by Ashlin Wilhelm, a friend, who I had enjoyed working with in the past. He is the Operations Director of the restaurant section of the establishment. He was quick to explain the dining concept behind Agrius.

All of the ingredients served are organic and locally sourced when possible. It’s that simple. He hands me a simple one page menu and I promise to eat there soon.

I am not easily sold on a locally grown, organic concept. My personal experience has been, particularly in Victoria, a concept can be oversold and can become a bit of a gimmick. Therefore, I have sometimes found it to be a readily available excuse for overly inflated prices, small portions or a lack of variety in produce. Agrius, by no means, falls in this category! The menu is simple but complete and the prices are comparable to all of the other establishments in the area.

When three of us lunched, we finished with the same opinion. We were all perfectly satisfied. The food was delicious, we felt great about the venue and the meals were presented with great care and attention. It just felt good. The local, organic aspect of the restaurant is merely a satisfying detail for me.

At the end of the meal and you get your bill, it’s the feeling you are left with that determines whether or not or how often you return. I have returned to Fol Epi and Agrius at least a dozen times since. In my opinion, Agrius has taken the simple, natural, quality concept of the Fol Epi baguette and transcended it to an entire restaurant experience.

Simply and naturally the place to have coffee, eat and get your daily baguette.

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