At this point, I am sure everyone is familiar with the ever-impressive team behind Raymonds restaurant. Again this year, Raymonds was ranked the #1 restaurant in Canada. But, the unstoppable duo, Jeremy Charles and Jeremy Bonia, are not stopping there. Just this week, they opened a brand new restaurant located at 291 Water Street, The Merchant Tavern.
I had been eagerly awaiting the opening of The Merchant Tavern ever since I first spotted the beautifully etched glass on their front windows. When I seen it finally posted on Facebook this past Tuesday that they were finally open to the public, I sprung from my desk and headed out to make their 5:30 opening.
When I reached the porch, it set in that I was finally going to get to try food from Jeremy Charles. In the past while, globally, we have developed a new type of celebrity: the celebrity chef. These aren’t Kardashian-type celebrities, but people who are truly talented, genuinely inventive and are creating authentic and important change in the world, through food. Jeremy Charles is one of these people and we are so incredibly lucky to have him as our own.
When I walked up the stairs of The Merchant Tavern and spotted him buzzing around the open concept kitchen eyeing dishes and chatting with staff, I had my first celebrity-encounter moment. Thankfully, I kept it together and silently observed. It felt amazing, as a foodie and a customer, to know that even though The Merchant Tavern is admittedly a more laid-back and lower-priced restaurant, that he and Jeremy Bonia have the same dedication they have to Raymonds.
The interior of this new spot is jaw-dropping on its own. The ceilings are tall with long, modern light fixtures and oversized, bright windows. The room is centred around a large fully-stocked bar which seats around 40 people. Lining the walls are simple, modern tables with bar-height tables featured along the tall windows.
This location was previously home to a bank, which leaves an interesting element for future use: the vault! Hidden away in the back of The Merchant Tavern is a private room fit for a king. With its large steel door your eye is drawn in, and is then met with a large leather booth and warm, cozy lighting.
But, the star of the show is what lies in the back of the restaurant, the open concept kitchen. While you dine at The Merchant Tavern the entire kitchen is open for your viewing. Whether it’s the staff prepping cutlery for the next guests or Jeremy Charles himself cooking you up a dish, you can watch!
This, to me, is always a true-sign of a quality restaurant. There’s nothing to hide in a kitchen like this.
For our first visit, we took a seat at the bar – this also provided a great viewing platform for observing the kitchen. As per usual, we started with drinks.
The drink menu at The Merchant Tavern is a little different than what we’re used to seeing in downtown, St.John’s. Jeremy Bonia, the Sommelier at Raymonds, decided for this restaurant to opt for a larger focus on craft beers, simplify the wine menu and take a more traditional turn on cocktails instead of the popular sugary-mixed drinks.
I opted for the Eastsider cocktail ($14) and Andrew opted for the Liberty Ale ($8). My cocktail was perfectly flavoured, fresh and had just the right amount of sweetness to it.
Also, to be noted. They have opted for a European approach in offering Sparkling Water as the staple drink, instead of the North American tradition of Flat Water – but obviously, you can get flat water if you request.
While we sipped away and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, we perused the menu. It was so hard to choose what would be our first dish here – I wanted to try everything!
With a dedication to keeping it clean, fresh and local both Raymonds and The Merchant Tavern source as much as they can from local farmers, fishermen and suppliers. You can read about a few of them here.
Once our order was in, we were presented with a rustic plate of bread and butter. The slices of bread were carefully placed in a bag and were lovingly kept warm with hot rocks in the base. Seriously, it was amazing. I want hot rocks for all of my bread now..
We started with a dish that is gaining popularity, the beet salad. Of course, The Merchant Tavern has their own version that certainly stepped it up a notch. The Organic Beet & Green Salad ($12) featured sprouted grains, toasted pumpkin seeds, rapeseed oil and beets.
The flavours were simple and natural giving the dish an earthy and fresh flavour. At my first bite, I knew I was in for a treat for the rest of the food. I will certainly be ordering this again!
Being a lover of cured meats, I couldn’t resist trying their take on a Charcuterie Plate ($8pp). This featured a selection of house cured and Canadian meats along with house-made pickled vegetables and grilled sourdough.
This was truthfully the best Charcuterie Plate I have been served at a restaurant. It had a beautiful selection, the pickles were absolutely delicious and it was quite a large serving for being a starter for 1 person – this is worth more than $8 for sure. Definitely ordering again!
After devouring these two large-serving starters, we were presented with our mains. I chose a small serving of the Spaghettini ($14). This dish featured fresh pasta, beautifully cooked broccoli, lemon, chili, a mound of parmesan and crisp bread crumbs.
This pasta was light and perfectly flavoured with hints of lemon that complimented the rich parmesan cheese. I’m glad I opted for the small size, as after eating the starters I probably wouldn’t have been able to finish the large portion! I highly recommend this dish – it’s simple and absolutely delicious.
Andrew chose the Roast Cod Fish ($24). This take on a traditional meal featured perfectly cooked Cod Fish, turnip, blueshell mussels and cider. Again, the flavours felt natural and light. I find often at restaurants that fish dishes leave me feeling unsatisfied, this would not be the case here! The serving was hearty and satisfying.
We were pretty full after all of this – but we had to try dessert! A friend of ours, who is now working at The Merchant Tavern, recommended to us to try the Vinegar Pie. Even with the clause of “I know, it doesn’t sound good”, he swore it was delicious. We went for it and he was so right – it was phenomenal!
The Vinegar Pie ($10) had a perfectly crisped crust with a moist interior. This was topped with Dandelion Ice Cream – amazing! If you’re sticking around for dessert, you should really give this dish a go – trust me.
My visit to The Merchant Tavern was an absolute 10/10. I can’t wait to return and try whatever they come up with next. From the professional and kind staff to the beautiful decor, this restaurant is sure to be a hit just like its cousin, Raymonds.
I suggest you get out there and check out The Merchant Tavern as soon as you can – no doubt, it’s booking up quickly!