Being picked by the Vacay.ca editors and journalists (including Vacay.ca and Top Restaurants in Canada Founder Adrian Brijbassi, Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles, Vacay.ca Family Travel Columnist Jody Robbins and Chair of the Top Restaurants in Canada, Renee Suen) as the winner of this contest, out of more than 400 entries, was such an honour!
So what did I win?
Round-trip airfare for two to St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador, a four-night luxury hotel stay, and dinner for myself and a guest at Raymonds, voted in 2014 and 2015 as the top restaurant in Canada by the Vacay.ca Voting Academy!
I decided to take my twin sister, Jessica, with me. We left August 6th and returned August 10th. It was an amazing trip!
If you have never visited St John’s, NL — go! But bring a fleece (or two), yes, even in August. It was cold. However, we did really luck out with one hot, sunny day, which also happened to be the day we did a boat tour.
Food.ee of the Year trip highlights
1. Dinner at Mallard Cottage (#7 on Canada’s top restaurants list this year)
I tried a cod collar for the 1st time. It was fried, salty, moist and tender on the inside, and crispy on the outside — just perfect (my dietitian hat was not on for this trip). It also came with a creamy tzatziki dip which kicked it up a notch.
My sister’s lovely classmate Robyn happened to be doing a genetic counselling rotation in St John’s (her home town) during our visit, so she joined us for dinner… and played photographer. Thanks Robyn!
We also tried the Caesar salad and scallop ceviche. Both very enjoyable dishes. For my entree, I ordered the fresh, pan seared halibut with potato salad and turnip slaw. The halibut was perfectly cooked and minimally seasoned, which let the natural, decadent flavour shine through. SO. GOOD.
Mallard Cottage is a definite must-try if you visit St John’s.
My plan for this trip was to eat seafood at every meal possible — I even had fish cakes for breakfast. Eating seafood in Toronto just doesn’t feel the same.
2. O’Brien’s Boat Tour
This tour was so worth while. We got very lucky with a warm sunny day! Sadly, there was no whale or iceberg sightings on our tour, but we did get to see 1000’s of puffins, which are incredibly cute! One island we went by, called Green Island, had over 300,000 birds in ~1/3 square km. It was amazing to see.
We also witnessed the singing of two Newfoundland songs by the tour guide, who was actually really good! And when someone lost their hat to the sea, the boat driver turned around a tried to retrieve it from the ocean with over 100 people on board watching. However, the driver and tour guide eventually had to give up.
I heard a boy ask, “Dad, why are we doing all this just for a hat?” My answer –> Because people in Newfoundland are likely the most considerate people in the country.
3. Visiting Signal Hill
Amazing history, breath taking views, a lovely hike, a decadent Newfoundland Chocolate Company cafe, and the chance to sit on a canon. What’s not to love?
We also saw the Signal Hill Tattoo perform, which is dedicated to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. This was a very interesting experience. It gave me chills. Although, the canon going off scared me half to death, so be prepared for that!
4. Quidi Vidi Brewery tour
This tour was a perfect way to spend our Sunday. Quidi Vidi is a picturesque fishing neighborhood in St John’s. Each beer brewed at the Quidi Vidi Brewery has a unique story behind it, which we got to learn about while drinking their beer. They even make one beer with iceberg water! They harvest the water from “bergy bits,” which has <8 ppm of impurities (compared to ~<100 in tap water).
Did you know that Newfoundland and Labrador comes in at #2 for drinking the most beer per year in the country? It is second only to the Yukon. In 2012, NL drank the equivalent of 300 bottles of beer per person!
5. Dinner at Canada’s #1 restaurant: Raymonds (I saved the best for last)
Saturday night — the night I had been anticipating for weeks — finally came. It was time for dinner at Raymonds!
My sister and I were treated to a 7-course, wine-paired dinner that blew me away. Raymonds is truly fine dining at its best. Some courses, including dessert, were multi-level with 3 separate dishes each. Good thing I was hungry.
Our waiter, Steven, and our award-winning sommelier, Jeremy Bonia (who has made appearances as the wine expert on the TV show, One Chef One Critic), where incredibly knowledgeable. I got an education in food and wine along with dinner. This was a one-of-a-kind experience.
(Side note: According to Bonia, if you’re looking for a robust Canadian red go to the Okanagan in BC, for a good Canadian white wine look to Ontario, and for a great Canadian sparkling wine search out one from Nova Scotia.)
Our dinner included in-house made, fresh bread, served with whipped butter with sea salt and dehydrated sea kelp, fresh oysters, smoked mackerel with onion ash and buttermilk spread, foie gras with toasted brioche and baked apples, grilled romaine salad, local superior potatoes with hazelnut crumble and potato foam, trout tartare, cod multiple ways (cheek, sound, nape and loin!), an incredible ricotta-based pasta, pork shoulder with pork jus, split pea puree and the best broccoli I have ever had, scotch sorbet with local strawberries and ricotta, among some other dishes. If I wrote every intricacy of each dish this post would be way too long — plus my memory isn’t that good!
The wine pairings (which I wish I could remember) were outstanding. One wine we tried was part of only 196 cases ever produced.
Chef Jeremy Charles (Canada’s real top chef) was unfortunately not there the night I visited. I was so looking forward to meeting him (yet another reason to go back to St John’s) but he was on a trip to the US to cook for a party of 10 … it must have been a special party!
Needless to say, this was the best meal I have ever had. I know I will make it back to Raymonds one day to dine here again. If you are ever in St John’s — which is undoubtedly worth a visit — don’t miss it!
Other trip highlights:
- Great live music and food at Yellowbelly Brewery
- Getting “screeched in” at Trapper John’s (I kissed a cod!)
- The incredibly nice Newfoundlanders (e.g. every Sunday the local grocery store, Belbins, has free coffee, tea & cookies for their customers)
- Gracie Joe’s cafe
- The “jelly bean” houses
- Fixed Coffee and Baking
- Toutons (a “pancake” commonly made in Newfoundland by pan frying bread dough with butter, served with dark molasses) — clearly delicious
- Visiting Cape Spear (the easternmost point in Canada)
- Getting to spend lots of time with my sister
There were so many restaurants I wanted to visit that I didn’t manage to get to (a girl can only eat so much), especially the Merchant Tavern (part of Raymonds restaurant group) and The Reluctant Chef.
I also really wanted to go to Lighthouse Picnics based at the Ferryland Lighthouse.
I guess I will just have to go back! Darn. ;)