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Jun 19, 2008 06:49 AM

Dining suggestions for NL

I'm planning my first trip to NL in mid-August and would love to hear suggestions on where to dine in Newfoundland (in and around St Johns, etc...) We'll be travelling around the island quite a bit and would love to enjoy local eateries, diners, restaurants, markets, fairs etc.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. I used to enjoy Magnum & Steins, but the kitchen crew changes an awful lot. I don't know if it's still as good as it once was. Ask some locals "in the know" when you arrive in St. John's. It's on Duckworth Street, near the law courts.

    Directly across the street is Basho, a place run by a chap who trained in the kitchen at Nobu in Tokyo. I have heard it is good, but have yet to try it myself.

    I have also heard good things about The Vault, on Water Street, in the old Bank of Montreal building. Other than enjoying a few bottles of beer and some appetizers, I have yet to try the place.

    Finally, Tangled up in Blue, on Bate's Hill, has gotten good press, but things change quickly, so I would ask people on the ground.

    A word of advice, if I may: many locals have no idea about fine dining (and before anyone starts "in on me", I grew up in the place and spent the best part of 30 years there, so I know whereof I speak). Not that there's anything wrong with fish and chips (one of my favourites when done properly) or a good turkey sandwich, but if you ask people for recommendations about great places to eat, they may end up suggesting decidedly casual places with menus that might not match what you had in mind. So be sure you trust the recommendations of the people you consult. The Keg might be the only thing they will suggest for fancy dining.

    That being said, if you want a few suggestions for "comfort food", try Leo's for fish and chips (dive-y, but oh so good) on Freshwater Road near the fire station, Manna European Bakery and Deli for sandwiches and soup (outside of the downtown core, near the Avalon Mall, at the very end of Freshwater Road, where it turns into Kenmount -- chicken breast or turkey are recommended), and Michel's Bakery on Water Street West (just before Water Street bisects into Waterford Bridge Road and Topsail Road) for sweets.

    Like many Canadian cities, St. John's is bereft of really great places at all price levels. Quite a few places, casual and fancy alike, are very overpriced for what you get.

    Local critic (he's a nice guy, so beware anything less than, say 9/10 or 10/10):

    Restaurant-specific websites and addresses:

    4 Replies
      1. re: maclock

        ...Bank of Nova Scotia.... Sorry.

        1. re: maclock

          My husband travels to Nfld frequently for business.
          The Vault is, by far, his absolute favorite.
          He has always been impressed by the food. The Chef/Owner, Gregory, (Who used to be the chef at Bianca's) without fail, provides amazing service and food. he is also knowledgeable about food and wine pairings. (as are all of the staff) The wine list is diverse, but still in it's early stages. They have recently hired 2 Belgian chocolatiers, and when he was last there, (yesterday) he could not say enough about the desserts. (and I am the sweet lover!) They are currently in the process of building their wine cellar in the "vault"...The selection is continually improving.
          Blue on Water is small but the food is very good.
          He has heard the same about Aqua, but never eaten there.

        2. re: maclock

          Looking for a restaurant, pub or other venue to have a an 80th birthday party this summer in St. John's. It will be an afternoon affair, but will not be laid back, we need a place that has some atmosphere, pub like or water view for about 60 people and we will need a little room for dancing. If anyone has any ideas it would be greatly appreciated. None of us live in NFLD, Thanks.

        3. I can semi-vouch for the Vault....i've not been but family have...also Aqua, and Blue

          I hear very good things about Bacalao.

          I disagree wholeheartedly with the "many locals have no idea about fine dining"........this would be much the same in any city, as every city has it's fast food diners and dives and their corresponding fans. What makes Newfoundlanders different?. St. John's happens to have a very diverse dining arena and if people were that much on the no side of fine dining NONE of these places you mention ever would have survived. Alot of people I know ( and yes i'm from Newfoundland ) have been MORE than pleasantly surprised with what the city has to offer....i happen to thing it was even loads ahead in ethnic offerings and such, say as opposed to Moncton until recently (sorry to Moncton people....but it was a tad chain'ey until recent years, but i'm happy to see Thai, Indian and sushi places springing up now)

          IF you are a sushi fan, try Sun Sushi on Duckworth.........IF you're a fan of Indian...try India Gate. IF you want to sample some game and such, try the Woodstock. I'd recommend trying out By The Beach (or is it bay..) in St. Phillips for your fish and chips..not only is it very good, but you get a FANTASTIC view to boot.

          7 Replies
            1. re: im_nomad

              Comparing St. John's (or the rest of Newfoundland, for that matter) to Moncton does nothing to change the fact that it's not a great place for dining. Please note that I clearly state that "[l]ike many Canadian cities, St. John's is bereft of really great places at all price levels."

              I have travelled far and wide in Canada, and only Vancouver continually impresses me with the breadth, the quality and the comparative affordability of its dining options. Most Canadian cities seem to have the same problem: going out involves a trip to somewhere that is either low-end, most of which is terrible, or high-end and only occasionally good. Consistency, genuine quality and affordability do not frequently come together on a wide-scale, reliable basis in Canada in my opinion.

              im_nomad, please understand that I grew up in St. John's and spent most of my life there, but it is really a "Sunday dinner" (roast turkey lunch/dinner for those not from Newfoundland and Labrador) and a fish and chips kind of town. If that's what you like, then St. John's has some options.

              I agree that there are a few very good high-end places like The Vault, but what is missing is a wide variety of reliably good, moderately priced places. To be ensured of a good meal, you are either going to somewhere like Leo's for fish and chips or you are going to The Vault.

              Many of the places that Karl Wells recognizes as "fine dining" on his website (e.g., Portobello's, Casbah, Get Stuffed, Woodstock, Oliver's Restaurant, Jack's Restaurant and Papa's Pier 17) are not really fine dining restaurants. Some of these restaurants are not even that good, in my estimation, especially as a function of price.

              1. re: maclock

                Sorry, but that should have read "[L]ike many Canadian cities, St. John's is bereft of a wide selection of really great places at all price levels" in both of my lengthy posts to date on this thread. Apologies all around.

                1. re: maclock

                  well, i'm not so sure i'd judge too much on what Karl Wells has to say anyway, he's a tv "personality".

                  it just bugs me is all, when people bash where they're from...sore point sorry. nf already has enough people thinking it's the arsehole of the world...i'd rather just promote it.

                  1. re: im_nomad

                    I love Newfoundland, but it doesn't do much to change the fact that it's not much of a foodie destination. As noted, I think that this is part of a larger Canadian (and perhaps even North American) problem. Food isn't celebrated in quite the same way as it is in other places. It also doesn't help matters any that we don't have any real local agriculture industry in Newfoundland and what little agriculture industry we do have has to put up with beastly soil (Codroy Valley excluded, I am told) and harsh weather.

                    The dearth of a wide selection of excellent places to eat, however, could change for the better very quickly if we see a small oil boom in St. John's. I'm not saying that it's certain to happen, but things may come around.

                    And by the way, I think the only reason people in Newfoundland have that defensive mentality is because they hitched their wagon to Canada. Big mistake. Huge mistake, even.

                    Toronto, Montreal and to a lesser extent Ottawa (i.e., the people who are accustomed to running the country) are populated by many people who are unjustifiably arrogant and who lack both vision and ambition. Quite a few of these people live to dump on Newfoundland because Central Canadians are too afraid to face their own inadequacies. Boot-strapping at its worst.

                    Albertans were (and probably still are) fair game in their eyes, too. This is one of the reasons so many journalists in the Canadian media are quick to attack the current Conservative government in Ottawa. Whatever one thinks of its policies or of the people in charge, most of the Conservative-bashing stems from the fact for the first time ever, Western Canadians have the strongest voice at the table, and that rots many Central Canadians.

                    The attitude of many Central Canadians is: "It's our country; who are they to tell us how to run it?" The contempt that this Liberal elite shows for anyone who has the temerity to challenge what they presume is their natural right to govern Canada is positively stomach-churning and it is a real threat to true democracy, to freedom of speech, to innovation and to dynamism across Canada. These people are unprincipled, agenda-pushing demagogues without any true belief system.

                    Canada could be so much more, but it is stagnated by a poverty of ambition and a lack of dynamic thinking at its core. The arrogance of the Liberal elite in Central Canada is simply breathtaking and without parallel anywhere else I have lived. The fact that Canadians don't recognize it, challenge it and do something about it deeply upsets me.

                    Newfoundland had a shot at economic union with the United States, something that would have inevitably led to statehood. Had that happened, Newfoundland would now be like Alaska: prosperous, low-tax and swimming in money. I have been to Anchorage, and it is a very nice place. It saddens me to think that St. John's is a shadow of what it could have been if Newfoundland had managed to join the most successful and powerful nation on Earth, but I digress. And to boot, every American I have ever met genuinely seems to like Newfoundlanders, and they do not derive pleasure from denigrating us in any way (well, Ellen Degeneris excluded).

                    Unfortunately, joining Canada has sapped Newfoundland of much of its pride. So many Newfoundlanders don't even recognize the aforesaid poverty of ambition that this union has imposed upon us and convinced us is normal. Leaving the running of one's life to government is not the answer, but I digress. We are getting way off-topic here. Rant/vent over. :-)

                    1. re: maclock

                      Being from St. John's myself there are plenty of great places to eat downtown in all price ranges. I would expect no matter where you go you will enjoy your experience because we are known for our hospitality. I know when I went home with my Barbados born husband for the first time, he was treated like a king at Ches'( #1 for fish and chips in my opinion) and it was a very memorial experience for us even 10 years later. I like to think that most of our establishments rate high in customer service.

                      1. re: maclock

                        Wasn't a restaurant in St.John's named best new restaurant in Canada a few years ago by Enroute magazine?Anyone in the business can tell you that a favourable review in that magazine is an honour and the measure of a great restaurant.I haven't read any mention of this so if anyone can confirm/comment...

                2. I agree with maclock on the state of the dining scene here. This is an opinion and in no way denigrates us. Why are we so sensitive? What's wrong with a little constructive self-criticism? I love this place like crazy-- just wish I could eat better.

                  I posted comments and suggestions here earlier:

                  1. great suggestions guys and gals. just got back from nfld and it was great. tried zapatas, magic wok, international flavours, and a whole bunch of diners in the small towns.

                    1. Just wanted to add a recent experience at the Rooms (red oak I think it's called?) in St. John's. We had lunch there, and it was fantastic, plus we were fortunate enough to be seated by the window with a spectacular view of downtown St. John's, the harbour and Signal Hill.