Raymonds chef Jeremy Charles says their menu is closer to Scandinavian than other cuisine
If you want to feel what it might be like to sit in one of London’s venerable restaurants like Simpson’s-in-the-Strand or the Savoy Grill, then go to Raymonds, 95 Water St. The atmosphere and décor are of the same variety.
© — Photos by Karl Wells/Special to The Telegram
Raymonds Newfoundland cod.
As for the food, I think the experience would be different — not less, but different.
I asked Raymonds co-owner, chef Jeremy Charles, to describe his cuisine.
“My food is regional and local. It’s simplified. It’s not trying to be overly complicated,” he said. “I’d call it Newfoundland Nordic cuisine.”
Charles said the menu is influenced at the moment by chef René Redzepi’s Noma Restaurant in Copenhagen.
“Nordic cuisine is all the rage and we have a lot of those same products to celebrate and to showcase,” he said. “We’re living in interesting times. A lot has changed in the past few years and people are interested in what Newfoundland and Labrador has to offer.”
As it turned out, I found myself at Raymonds not long after my conversation with Charles. I had donated an opportunity to have dinner and conversation with yours truly to an auction for Daffodil Place. The high bidder was real estate man Jim Burton. Recently, I made good on the commitment and took Burton and his wife, Dera, to Raymonds.
Jim Burton has a strong interest in supporting Daffodil Place. He convinced John Steele to donate time on all his radio stations for the Daffodil Place Hope for Healing Radiothon happening on Wednesday, Dec. 11. Burton hopes the radiothon will raise funds to make necessary repairs to the five-year-old building.
“Newfoundlanders and Labradorians,” he says, “have huge hearts, but during this time of year when you’re trying to find that special gift for someone, I think the Daffodil Place Hope for Healing Radiothon presents a great opportunity to do that by donating on someone’s behalf.”
After a little pre-dinner conversation, our server asked whether we were interested in wine. We decided to go with a service offered by Raymonds where they pair individual glasses of wine with each course. Raymonds co-owner Jeremy Bonia made some excellent choices for us.
Frequently, restaurants that charge $30 or more for an entrée will present customers with what’s called an amuse-bouche. It’s usually a tiny hors-d’oeuvre created by the chef that day and meant to whet your appetite for more food and drink. At Raymonds, the practice is commonplace, and taken to a more elaborate level.
To begin, there was nothing understated about the way our hors-d’oeuvres were served. Servers arrived and placed an actual slice of tree trunk in front of us. On the tree slice were no less than three appetite starters surrounding a centrepiece of driftwood, snail’s shell and small disc of tree branch. (Note: it is unlikely you would see this style of presentation at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand or at the Savoy Grill.)
The first food item on my left, and resting on a scallop shell, was an exquisitely fresh and meaty raw oyster with lemon. Moving right, there was a plain white demitasse cup filled with warm, delicious vichyssoise style soup. And finally, there was a single fried caplin placed atop yet another piece of wood (a well-worn bit of plank about the size of a small book) along with a daub of tart mustard.
My appetizer was caviar.
Against all odds, Cornel Ceapa of New Brunswick started a sturgeon caviar business at Carter’s Point on the Saint John River several years ago. It’s called Acadian Sturgeon and Caviar Inc. They produce very good caviar. I was pleased to be able to order it at Raymonds.
The opened tin of Caviar arrived in a bowl of ice on a wooden plank.
On the bare plank was a range of accompaniments: pieces of Melba toast, buckwheat blini, crème fraîche, finely chopped shallot, chive and a quail egg that had been passed through a tamis (drum sieve). The sieving process gave the quail egg an interesting powder-like consistency.
Charles’ work is best sampled in the restaurant’s entrées, where the key to his effectiveness lies in choosing the best ingredients and cooking them perfectly. Thanks to a fine palate, he achieves remarkable harmony of flavours. A good example of this would be the pairing of cod with braised pork in the Raymonds Newfoundland cod course.
A white plate was coated with sauce Robert, an oniony gravy with hint of mustard, traditionally served with pork. From sauce upward came layers of Lester’s corn purée, roasted artichoke, cabbage and braised pork.
Crowning all was a golden coated piece of sautéed cod fillet. It was a brilliantly executed, unconventional “surf and turf” dish. The tender cod maintained star status, but was made even more delicious by the addition of the pork flavours.
Our server began to tell me about my plate of roasted Quebec duck breast. He took a stab at describing something new on the plate called sea buckthorn, “a purée of wild orange berries.” I smiled to myself because sea buckthorn, which grows here, is one of René Redzepi’s favourite foraged ingredients.
The sea buckthorn played a minor role in the dish, which included a plump and thickly cut roasted Quebec duck breast, one duck sausage, Organic Farm squash, Lester’s parsnip, roasted Atlantic pear, roasted Brussels sprouts and confit shallot.
Roasted vegetables taste even better when served with meat. Their smoky-edged sweetness complements the taste of cooked duck, turkey, lamb, etc. The extraordinary choice of vegetables and the pink duck breast were a treat. As for the sea buckthorn, it provided a mild, tart accent to a winning dish.
I passed on the heavier desserts in favour of a simple bowl of coconut-flavoured ice cream. Three quenelles of homemade ice cream, two madeleines (French sponge cake cookies) and a ground cherry, for decoration, arrived in a wooden bowl. This dessert reminded me of why the combination of cake and ice cream is so appealing.
Finally, we were served a selection of after-dinner sweets. Again, another wood plank arrived with a piece of tree branch (birch, I think) standing on it. The branch had four slits cut into it with each slit holding a thin sheet of chocolate. A bowl of wrapped molasses candies sat at the opposite end of the plank, and in the middle was a book-shaped piece of board holding four macaroons.
The macaroons were the most outstanding item — melt-in-the-mouth good and perfectly tender from the first bite. That’s pretty much what can be said for all the food at Raymonds.
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For regular updates on “One Chef One Critic,” my Telegram Dining Out column and the latest developments on the local culinary scene, please follow me on Twitter @karl_wells.
Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. He is also a restaurant
panellist with enRoute Magazine. Contact him through his website, www.karlwells.com.