Adelaide Oyster House A Fresh New Spot for St. John’s is a Fresh New Start for Stephen Vardy

"It’s not fine dining, it’s fun dining.”

St. John’s newest restaurant – The Adelaide Oyster House – is just what the city needed next to maintain the momentum of our booming food culture.

Adelaide focuses on imaginative small plate seafood dishes that let you share menu items with friends, or sample a couple of dishes for yourself … which is good because with a menu like theirs, you’ll want to try it all. They also have a selection of raw bar options, and a creative cocktail list.

But before you set eyes on the menu, you’re likely to be struck by the decor; something worth mentioning since renovations took exactly one year. What was once Our Pleasure might now be the most visually striking space downtown. While some restaurants fake it with mall-bought decor, not one inch of Adelaide was faked. Every piece of wood, steel, and lighting you see is either repurposed from story-worthy origins, or it was vintage bought.

There are, for example, doors with one hundred year old bone marrow in them, and every day for weeks, a steel wall was treated in a way that tarnished it to match owner Stephen Vardy’s vision for the space.

In August, Overcast readers voted Vardy runner-up for “Best Yoga Instructor in Town,” so you can trust he knows a thing or two about how atmosphere affects experience – in this case, dining experience. Vardy jokes that the biggest challenge of opening Adelaide Oyster House was “being patient” during the twelve month overhaul of the old Our Pleasure.

And the food? It’s the next logical extension of what’s been happening here (Mallard Cottage, Raymonds, Chinched Bistro, The Club). The dishes rely on the quality of the core ingredients and flavour-balancing pairings that allow the inherent complexities of a few ingredients to speak for themselves.

“We want to offer great food at a great price,” Vardy says. “It’s all small plates, and the menu will change a lot. It’s loud, boisterous, and lively; it’s not fine dining, it’s fun dining.”

The raw bar menu items obviously include a variety of fresh shucked oysters on the half shell, but there’s some other exciting items too, like blowtorched tuna, served with crispy noodles, spring onion, and “Nikkei tiger’s milk.” The raw bar items also include scallop ceviche with puffed rice, ginger scallion sauce, radish, and mint.

There’s also yellowfin tuna sashimi with lemon candy, jalapenos, and “really good olive oil.” None of it costs over $16. Sample small plates include albacore tuna tacos, salt and pepper squid with a sweet chili lime sauce, and, char-grilled octopus with an aji panca sauce and crispy local potatoes.

If you’re not a seafood fan and you’re being dragged there by a pile of friends ravenous for these delectable seafood dishes, relax – the menu also includes chips & house-made guacamole, short ribs with organic wheat berries, carrots, and pickled mustard seed, a crispy Korean chicken dish, and “kakuni” pork belly with organic quinoa, pickled local veggies, and a fiery-tart sauce.

While the menu offers something for anybody with good taste in food, Adelaide is purposefully an exciting seafood restaurant, as that was Vardy’s goal: to fill what he saw as a void in local seafood-focused restaurants. That and the fact he simply loves oysters himself. “They’re high prana food, and just so beautiful, naked and on
their own. I eat an oyster and I feel charged.”

To execute his vision, Vardy flew some staff members in from the mainland to help, including sous chef Phan Nhu Long, but he didn’t need a head chef, because Vardy himself is a veteran of the food industry, with two decades of experience under his chef’s hat.

This new venture is something of a coming out of retirement party for Vardy – he took the last two years off, to study, retreat, travel, and generally re-charge himself. Many townies know him as their yoga instructor at Moksha yoga.

The time away from the food industry also helped him plan his dream restaurant. “Opening Adelaide has really been about five years in the making,” he says. “I was so sick of the fine dining world, and putting on a façade about who I am and what I want to be cooking, and in what kind of environment. This concept speaks to what I believe in. The right concept can pull anyone out of retirement.

“This feels right and is long overdue for me, personally. It’s also in my blood stream. I’ve tried to turn my back on this industry and escape it, twice actually, and it doesn’t work. It’s who I am and always will be. Not a ‘chef,’ a cook, and a proud one at that.”

As for the general atmosphere, he’s openly against stuffiness. “We want you to feel like it’s your home. You can be in here every day and feel welcome and warm. It’s small, it’s tight, it’s busy and loud. When you come and dine here, please introduce yourself, the kitchen is open concept, I want to meet all of you.”

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