We’re in the capital city of an island province with an historic attachment to the fishery, so where’s all the seafood at?
“There’s lots of great St. John’s restaurants that serve seafood, but no great destination seafood restaurant,” says owner and restauranteur Robert Moore. “I just thought it was a phenomenal site for a seafood restaurant.”
Now open at 351 Water Street, the restaurant occupies part of the bottom two levels of the six-storey office building, with nearly every seat in the house getting a view of the harbour.
The restaurant is named for the empire of fish merchant Edwin Duder (namesake of Duder’s Lane, where the restaurant is located). That original fish exchange was an inspiration for Moore when he ventured out on his own from his previous partnership at Legros & Motti to begin SJFX with co-owner Justin Garland.
In the months before opening, the team has worked to find viable markets so they can supply a quality fresh seafood restaurant year-round. “The local market has gotten tremendously better over the past four or five years,” says Moore.
“In times when fresh seafood isn’t available locally, we go to our first fallback which is Atlantic Canada, out of the Maritimes, along with connections to the Boston market… anything that you can name that’s out of the ocean, we’ve got it on a fresh basis.”
That bountiful catch means a menu that goes beyond your usual fish and chips. “Alaskan king crab, cod, halibut, sea bass, lobster … mahi mahi, swordfish, shark,” lists Chef Maurizo Modica. “We also have the usual stuff: chicken, ribs, and steaks.”
To meet the goal of being a seafood destination in a fishing town, Chef Maurizo, along with sous chef Dave Jones, stacked the menu with local favourites like cod tongues, fish and brewis, and their own take on Jiggs dinner.
“It’s deconstructed,” says Chef Maurizio, of the seared cod, served with pease pudding, turnip, cabbage and carrot cooked in salt beef broth. “For any Newfoundlander, they’ll recognize the flavours are there, but with restaurant presentation.”
Chef Maurizio favours the lobster mac and cheese. “Coming from the south of Switzerland and family from Sicily, my style of cooking is Mediterranean, so certainly my flairs are towards the pastas and those dishes.”
Co-owner Justin Garland says they wanted to extend the local theme to the bar area. “The Caesar with the salt beef jerky and the Brigus martini with the fresh local NL blueberries… it’s about Newfoundland staples: Your Purity syrup, your jam jams, your Screech…”
“We’re casual. We want to be open for locals and the tourist crowd,” likening the vibe to the Keg. “It’s just about good fresh seafood.”
St. John’s Fish Exchange is open at 351 Water Street