Cod and Chowder

It is nigh on impossible to have a boring time in St. John’s. There is every type of entertainment that one could envision or need, and plenty of folks to meet.

Except on the night that Canada won gold.

The streets of the city were bare; pubs populated only by diehards; restaurants lay without custom. Creepy, almost science fiction; the day after Armageddon.

In the interests of comparison and entertainment, however, I was out wandering these bare streets; to tell the truth, I am not terribly interested in hockey, and only the last ten minutes or so of a game holds my attention. I have to add, however, that for an aficionado of the last ten minutes, the Olympic final was a doozy. Played, I have to add, to about ten of us in a bar and then replayed several dozen times to myself alone in a nice restaurant; the third in a series of four that I was testing.

The test was simple; sea food chowder followed by cod. How one can go wrong, I thought in St. John’s, the home of the few cod that are still legally extracted from the Atlantic Ocean. I tried three restaurants for dinner and one other for lunch where I couldn’t quite force another cod on myself – however, their spinach salad with scallops was terrific.

The first was The Cellar; then Oliver’s and finally tonight, Portobello’s. Seafood chowder in all, plus The Peppermill, my lunch haunt, and cod, one of the most luscious of all fish, which, when served simply and fresh is, in my humble opinion, simply magical.

I have to say, that the cod in The Cellar was streets ahead of the others; absolutely perfect, and fresh to the point that I thought the kitchen staff were hauling it in through their back window. Their scrunchions were idyllic, the fish sublime and their shrimp bisque simply mouth-watering. Actually, after dinner on Saturday, I wondered why I should continue the research; I should simply come back here again and know that the best had been found.

But that was Saturday; my Sunday research, coloured by the Olympic dream, led me to Oliver’s. I actually avoided the soup, and went instead for scallops. Delicious. Their cod, pretty good, but not quite a contender. The server disinterested, and the only other table to arrive, really really dull; I like eavesdropping.

Tonight, I tried Portobello’s; I am staying the in The Courtyard Marriott, a lovely hotel, friendly and well located, but served only by Smitty’s. Now I am sure that Smitty’s has its place in the culinary firmament, but not for me. A cursory glance at their menu highlighted a field of brown food, and I needed something more.

It was. However, pouring with rain; boats were really bobbing up and down in the harbour, and the wind sheeting down the street. I love weather; at home, and all too often everywhere else, weather has been dumbed-down, and we get it all rather gently and homogenised. Here, however, it rains; the wind howls and it is great to watch, and even walk out in a little.

So I popped next door and had the best chowder ever; more fish than potato, flavour and texture. Brilliant, but the cod? Sadly it couldn’t hold a candle to the first night at The Cellar. It offers a great view, reasonably friendly staff, overseen by a micro-managing boss, and a pretty good menu.

The bars however, are fabulous as a post-cod exercise. Sandwiched between Duckworth and Gower Street lies George Street; every building a bar or restaurant, and feast of music, sound, people and the home of a truly distinct society. Bands playing seven days a week, and good ones at that!

I love Newfoundland, and this three-day visit has simply made me want to come back again soon.

And did I talk about Cape Spear? No, of course not, but it is terrific, and just one more place to visit in this magical province.