Lunch at the Garden

Published on September 9, 2008
The entrance to the Tea Garden Restaurant in Holyrood. Photo by Karl Wells/Special to The Telegram

The Tea Garden

328 CBS Highway

Holyrood

Phone (709) 229-7376

The Tea Garden

328 CBS Highway

Holyrood

Phone (709) 229-7376

In the summers of my youth we took a lot of day trips around the bay. Sometimes it would be a berry-picking trip to Avondale, a picnic junket to some scenic location, or a trip to Brigus to see relatives. The drive through Holyrood always impressed me, for one reason in particular. There was an archway made from two great whalebones at the entrance to a private drive. The driveway belonged to a tree and shrub-obscured home on the main road through Holyrood. Those whale bones, which now appear to be covered in fibreglass and white paint, were the main point of interest. However, the hidden house also intrigued me. I always imagined it to be a large, mysterious and magical house.

A few days ago, I finally got to see the house. It actually has a name - Fjordiem. Fjordiem means "harbour home" in Norwegian. The house was built in 1931 for a Norwegian fishing captain by the name of Olaf Olsen. Capt. Olsen was a businessman as well as a fisherman. The whalebones - that came from a right whale's jaw - were procured from an Olsen whaling station.

Today's pale yellow building, site of Tea Garden Restaurant, is quite different from Olsen's time. With the exception of the gable-roofed front area that remains somewhat the same, the building has undergone extensive renovations. I was surprised by how sprawling the place is on the inside. There are several rooms (of different colours) along the back of the building that are dressed to the nines (with flower arrangements, etc.) for fine dining. I was told by owner, Mrs. Marie Hunt - who opened the restaurant six years ago - that much of the dining space used to be a large deck that ran along the back of the building. To provide for more customers, the deck was simply converted into dining rooms. Now, Tea Garden Restaurant accommodates 20 tables and can easily hold 100 diners.

Essentially seasonal

Owner Hunt told me her restaurant is essentially a seasonal operation since most people aren't interested in traveling to Holyrood for a meal in the winter. They open when the gardens outside are looking beautiful (and they do) and close again at the end of September.

The exception to the rule may be Christmastime. As an experiment, last year Tea Garden Restaurant re-opened in November for several weeks to present a Christmas-themed dining experience, "Tea Garden at Christmas." It was quite successful.

Hunt loves to decorate. She says it took about a month to decorate for last year's special Christmas opening. It took another month to take the decorations down.

She hesitated when I asked her if she would do "Tea Garden Christmas" again this year. All she said was that if anyone's interested they can contact her in late October. By that time she'll know if she's going ahead with a Christmas opening for 2008. This venture is clearly a labour of love for Marie Hunt and her husband - who contributes his labour as well.

Guest and I were seated at a window table in Tea Garden's wine-coloured dining room. The centre of the room featured a large vase filled with a tall multi-coloured arrangement of fabric flowers. Like most rooms at Tea Garden, it had a commanding view of Holyrood Harbour. The window tables are almost always booked and it's not hard to understand why.

Round tables were carefully set with beautiful linens and equally attractive flatware. The room had the kind of frills that gave it what might be called a feminine touch.

Lunch and dinner

Tea Garden Restaurant has separate lunch and dinner menus. Luncheon main dishes run from $14 to $16 and dinner entrees from $22 to $34. The menus are not extensive but contain enough variety to satisfy most. For example, for dinner they offer lamb, chicken, beef and seafood dishes. All mains are accompanied by a variety of vegetables and choice of potato. Tea Garden also offers a selection of white and red wines by the bottle. House wine is sold "by the glass."

For her lunch guest, chose Tea Garden's lasagna. According to the menu, Chef Robin regularly prepares a meat and a vegetarian version of classic lasagna. Being a card-carrying carnivore, guest ordered the one with the meat.

She liked it but found it a tad dry. I thought it was quite flavourful and filling but agreed that it could have used a little more juice. Sometimes pasta dishes dry a lot when reheated. The lasagna came with a caesar salad that was appealing. It had real bacon in it.

Since Tea Garden seemed like the sort of spot that would do a really good job with our national dish of pan-fried cod and scrunchions, that's what I ordered. The codfish was thick and broke apart easily when prodded with my fork. It had a nice crispy coating that was full of flavour as well. The scrunchions were salty and crunchy and the mashed potatoes and other vegetables (carrots and French beans) were delicious. The potato, by the way, was served up "cafeteria style" from an ice cream scoop - two scoops per plate.

Dandy dessert

Our meal ended with a simple but delicious dessert. It was a dish of beautifully moist cake, topped with rhubarb jam in turn topped with whipped cream. The dish was called rhubarb delight and it certainly was delightful. It reminded me of the type of dessert my mother would make for Sunday dinner. It was good, honest, homemade fare, as was all the food we enjoyed at Tea Garden Restaurant. You will not find haute cuisine at Tea Garden. What you will find is tasty, fresh food served in beautiful rooms with a knockout view. And, that's a lot.



Karl Wells is a restaurant panellist with enRoute and judge with the Cuisine Canada/University of Guelph Culinary Book Awards. He is also co-host of the upcoming Rogers TV show "One Chef One Critic," debuting 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21. To reach him, log on to his website: www.karlwells.com.