Cocktails, Puddings & Madeleines:
A Nocturnal Tasting Tour of Newfoundland – Old & New
Dreams are made of this…….
Bite-sized Chunks of my Culinary Adventures in Newfoundland:
Part Three – Fine Dining & New Discoveries, the culinary trip continues……
On my second day in Newfoundland, as you may remember, I cooked alongside and watched Lori Butler (The Island Chef) bake and cook some traditional Newfoundland dishes………you can read all about it here: Cloudberries, Tea Buns & Chocolate Shoes: A Postcard from Newfoundland, Atlantic Canada. Today’s post is also all about day two of my amazing trip, but this journey starts late afternoon and continues all evening…..it’s a day (and night) of culinary discoveries and tasting – the standard of food (and service) of which would rival any Michelin Star restaurant in London, or anywhere else for that matter. I met chefs and cooks with passion, verve and flair, and although all of the places I visited were different in culinary style, each one had an underlying desire to put local Newfoundland ingredients (and recipes) on the map, and not just in the province, but beyond the island, and at least one of the restaurants I visited, Raymonds Restaurant, has done exactly that by winning the coveted Canada’s Best New Restaurant award in 2014. Their mission statement is simple, and echoes all of the other fine establishments I visited, they say…..“Newfoundland and Labrador, is blessed in having access to some of the best seafood, wild game, and produce in the world. Having such a bountiful larder right on our doorsteps means we’re able to adopt a truly sustainable approach to fine dining – foraging and sourcing locally grown ingredients from independent purveyors”.……
But before I whisk you off on my magic carpet for my nocturnal “A Taste of Newfoundland – Old and New”, let me just go back to Quidi Vidi village once more and tell you about Mallard Cottage – with thanks once more to Bernadette Walsh for taking me there to meet the restaurant’s owner Todd Perrin for a chat about his new venture. Mallard Cottage, an 18th Century Irish-Newfoundland vernacular style cottage, is recognised as a National Historic Site of Canada as well as being one of the oldest wooden buildings in North America, and Todd along with his wife and business partner, Sommelier Stephen Lee, have restored the building back to its former glory,whilst retaining most of its original features. I took tea there, in one of the beautiful dining rooms, as Todd told me all about the building and the restaurant……the tea was served with an eclectic mix of jugs and bowls which further enhanced the uniqueness of this place.
The menu changes daily, according to what is available, there were fresh, local crabs being delivered the day I visited, and you can check out what is on offer on their Instagram account. They offer “brunch” from Wednesday to Sunday between 10:30 and 2:30 and are open in the evenings for “supper” from 5:30 pm until 9 pm……all the bread is home-made on the premises and I was there to see trays and trays of freshly baked bread buns being taken out of the oven when I was there. The emphasis, like all the restaurants I visited, is on seasonal and local produce – They say that the team…..“celebrates Newfoundland & Labrador’s incredible purveyors, through showcasing the provinces’ vast array of wild game, seafood & produce, displayed alongside a vital piece of Newfoundland’s built heritage”……It is indeed a very unique place and I was intrigued by the history of the building, as well as the ethos of the restaurant.
Bernadette dropped me off at the hotel and after a hurried shower and a change of clothes, I was then collected by Amy for our night of feasting as we walked through down-town St John’s! I hope you haven’t eaten, as you are in for a gastronomical trip of a lifetime now, and the great thing is that you get to walk from venue to venue, so at least the guilt of eating at four restaurants won’t plague your conscience – I jokingly called it a “pub crawl with fine food”! Our first stop was for a taste of the New at Chinched Bistro in Queen Street, where Chef/Owners Shaun Hussey and Michelle LeBlanc say that they “use familiar ingredients and put their creative juices to work making them delicious to both the eye and the belly!” We sat at a bar style table looking out of the window and were welcomed with our first wine of the evening, and some home-made bread and local butter……
……this was followed by the most amazing array of charcuterie, pickles, mustards, olives and relishes that I have ever seen….including my first taste of pickled fiddlehead ferns! The selection of charcuterie was astonishing, from sauscisson to foie gras and prosciutto terrines, all of them hand-made and home-cured and served with bread sticks and sour-dough crackers. The charcuterie was presented on wooden boards and the bread basket was regularly topped up, as were our wine glasses! We were treated to one more “paired” glass of wine with our food before we had to bid farewell and make our way to the next restaurant! Lori was out time-keeper and she was very strict about it! For those of you who maybe interested in their menu, you can see what’s on offer here: Chinched Bistro Menus. The food and service here was top-notch and Michelle who was front of house made us feel very welcome.
We then made our way down to Duckworth Street and it was on to Newfoundlandia at The Reluctant Chef, for a taste of the Old now; this lovely restaurant is housed in a historic building and like many restaurants I had now encountered thus far in the province, it has several individual cosy dining areas. We were seated in the front dining room with some of Lori’s paintings adorning the walls, and our charming waitress then suggested we all tried the popular Damsen Martini, which we duly did and enjoyed. Tony Butt, the owner/chef came out to meet us and explained the reason behind the name of the restaurant – reluctant stemming from an unwillingness to open an establishment where he couldn’t do things “his way”, as in no menu – so he has a daily, seasonal and ever-changing “tasting menu” with the emphasis being on the restaurant’s atmosphere and the food of course.
My taste of “Old Newfoundland” was something I had been looking forward to trying, Cod Tongues with Scrunchions, served with a sublime home-made tartar sauce, AND champagne! Cod tongues are not tongues at all but come from the neck of the fish and are fried in seasoned flour and served with scrunchions, which are small fried cubes of back fat – the combination is just delicious! Lori was time-keeping again, so we had to “down” our champers and make our way to the next venue, but, we would be meeting Tony next day on our “Boil-Up” and foraging day on the beach. I loved Tony’s place, and the atmosphere and friendliness of the staff was exemplary, and yes, the food was wonderful too.
We wandered a bit further down Duckworth Street to Mark McCrowe’s The Club Gastro-Pub; it was already bustling when we arrived there and we decided to sit at the bar for the next course of our culinary trip, which was also a taste of the Old…..Mark’s place is newly opened and focuses on beer and food pairings, and it was time to try another Quidi Vidi Brewery beer again, this time I had a 1892 Traditional Ale, which went perfectly with the fabulous Halliday’s Blood (black) Pudding that Mark served us, accompanied by his own home-made Mudders Pickles and greens. Mark’s restaurant is casual, along the lines of a pub, or a gastro pub as he calls it, think The Eagle in London, and you are on the right track. The Oyster and Raw bar specialises in classic recipes like tartar and ceviche using the most amazing seafood and meat. Oysters, mainly East coast are shipped in fresh and served with mignonettes and The Club’s draught beer features a line of Quidi Vidi craft beers that are a natural pairing with The Clubs food and it’s atmosphere.
I thoroughly enjoyed my brief visit and I certainly enjoyed the wonderful atmosphere and Halliday’s blood puddings (made to an 80-year-old recipe) were made even better, if that was possible by Mark’s unctuous and tasty Mudder’s Pickles; Mudder’s pickles is a family recipe, which are named after his mother, as in “mudder”! They are very similar to Piccalilli and Mark has very kindly shared the family recipe here: Chef Mark McCrowe’s Mudder’s Pickles Recipe. Mark says of this old family recipe….”This is a super traditional family recipe. We use it as a condiment for our savory cod cakes at the shop. It is really easy to make at home especially when you mother or “mudder” is the one making it. It’s also a killer condiment to eat with jiggs dinner – can’t beat it mixed in with some salt beef and peas pudding!”…..MORE about the famous Newfoundland Jigg’s Dinner in another post!
We now made our way to Raymonds Restaurant on Water Street, feeling a little tipsy and full, but still looking forward to the last tasting menu of the night, which was a taste of something new. Raymonds is situated in a stunning example of Newfoundland and Labrador classical architecture, built in 1915, and overlooking St. John’s harbour. The restaurant is a collaboration between two Jeremy’s – head chef Jeremy Charles and restaurant manager and sommelier Jeremy Bonia, whom I met that evening. The atmosphere was welcoming and serene with sparkling wine glasses and glimmering silverware laid out on crisp white linen tablecloths – it is fine dining with a touch of casual elegance. Our first course arrived with an immaculately paired wine, Ricotta cavatelli with fresh local snow crab, mirepoix, fresh herbs, breadcrumbs, Parmesan and a butter emulsion.
Our wine glasses were replaced with new ones and a lovely glass of Canadian red wine to accompany the next dish of Bacon (house-smoked) wrapped Newfoundland rabbit loin (which is actually hare), braised rabbit, parsnip purée, squash, wild cranberries, confit shallot, salsify in a rabbit jus. The dessert was stunning, a Newfoundland beet parfait, chocolate beet cake, dehydrated beet meringue, candied orange, chocolate crumb, house-made 18% frozen yoghurt. The wines kept flowing and we were then served a “sweetie” platter, on a wooden board with a branch, which comprised freshly made Madeleines, Salt Toffees and slivers of Chocolate Bark and Wafers…….it was all totally sublime and each mouthful was filled with pleasant surprises of tastes and textures. It is little wonder that they won the Best New Restaurant of Canada award for 2014, as this was Michelin star quality and style food in beautiful surroundings.
Sadly, I have very few photos to share of my last meal at Raymonds, as the light was very bad and it seemed inappropriate to whip out my large DSLR camera in the middle of the dining room! But, I hope my descriptions of the food we ate and enjoyed has whet your appetite….like all the other eateries I visited, they also make their own bread, daily, and this is an image of their baguettes/pains taken from their website…..
My gastronomic tour of St John’s was over, and what a tour it had been; Lori had told me that she had wanted to offer me “a guided food tour through the streets of Down-town St. John’s, which would be a gastronomic experience unique to Newfoundland; to sample their cuisine, both old and new. The establishments we visited are of their finest: they have received numerous accolades, including: En Route Magazine’s Best New Restaurant in Canada (2011), Two Gold Medal Plates NL Champions (2011 and 2012) and the Chopped Canada Competition Champion (2014)” and she was right, the tour was enjoyable, interesting and downright tasty……I slumped on my hotel bed that night revisiting each place, remembering the different tastes I had experienced as well as wondering how on earth I was going to be up in time for tomorrow’s “Boil-Up” and foraging expedition on the beach – and if I could manage breakfast!
This wonderful tour would not have gone ahead without the careful planning and hospitality of lots of people, so I would like to say a big thanks to: Nim, Amy, Bernadette, Erin, Regina, Shaun and Michelle from Chinched, Tony and all the staff at The Reluctant Chef, Mark and the staff at The Club- GastroPub and the two Jeremy’s and all the staff at Raymonds – you each in your own way made my trip exciting, memorable and I had the time of my life – THANKS! Karen
NB: I hope you have enjoyed every step of my nocturnal pub-crawl with fine dining, please pop back next week for part 4 of my Atlantic Canada Eats trip – Fiddlehead Ferns, Foraging and a Traditional Newfoundland Jigg’s Dinner.
Disclaimer: I was the guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism and all my flights, accommodation and meals were included, as well as all trips, excursions and special cookery sessions with local chefs. With profound thanks to all the people and organisations that looked after me and made my trip so memorable and exciting.
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