Incorporating the freshest seasonal ingredients in their kitchen, outstanding service in their dining room, and impeccable style in their waterfront space. Jeremy Charles, Jeremy Bonia and their dynamic team deliver an authentic ‘taste of place’ that reflects the culinary culture of Newfoundland, Labrador and Canada.” – Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance
Vacay.ca’s annual Best Restaurant in Canada Competition has just named Raymonds the very best restaurant in the country. For the second year in a row. And it’s the third year in a row they’ve been in the top 10. Congrats as well to Mallard Cottage who ranked #7 on this year’s list.
The list is meant to celebrate Canadian cuisine, and serve as a definitive dining resource for people travelling in our country. In previous years, the list was created by counting votes from the general public, last year, by Canada’s finest chefs, and this year by “a roster of Canadian and U.S.-based fine-dining connoisseurs, leading food and travel journalists, and industry experts.”
This web article you’re reading now is largely a re-hashing of a print article we ran when they won last year (they we never digitized ’til now). At that time, Raymonds co-owner Jeremy Bonia said it was a huge honour to even be considered for the list, let alone top it. “It’s always great to be respected by your peers, but we realize there are a lot of restaurants in this country that could have easily been on top. The best part is the fact that people are now looking to the east as a part of the culinary landscape of Canada.”
Terroir Tipped the Scale
Chef and 2014 judge Connie Desousa had this to say about Raymonds, “Chef Jeremy Charles drives farm to table so well with his restaurant. I love that the majority of his menu items are either grown with his bare hands or fished or hunted. He is a great ambassador of Canadian cuisine.”
The notion of farm-to-table, and focussing on local terroir and traditional Newfoundland cuisine is a big part of what makes Raymonds Raymonds. Another former Vacay judge, Chef Jonathan Gushue of Gushue Hospitality Inc said that Raymonds is “becoming the benchmark for regional Canadian cuisine. Not many [restaurants] take terroir as seriously as this restaurant, which provides patrons of the restaurant with a unique look into North Atlantic cuisine like no other.”
“Terroir” is a wine term, used increasingly so in the food industry, and refers to refer to the core essence of a wine or food item that is imparted to it specifically by the place (earth, climate, etc) it is grown in. Gushue continued his gushing about Raymonds by commending just how serious they are about terroir. “To say they are serious is an understatement. They use up to 1,200 square feet of storage facilities to keep their foraged product for year-round use.”
What the Win Means
According to the mandate of the competition, their win means that “more than any other restaurant in the country, Raymonds blend exquisite flavours with world-class service, a top-notch wine list, and a magnificent setting.” Restaurants across the country were rated primarily on dish selections and quality of the food, and secondarily on overall dining experience and ambiance. Other factors included: presentation, creativity, value to the consumer, wine list, and front-of-house performance. Each judge had 100 points to allocate between five to ten restaurants. To ensure a restaurant wouldn’t benefit too much from a single judge’s enthusiasm, judges were not allowed to allot more than twenty points to a single restaurant.
“As for fine dining in St. John’s, we just hoped that people would embrace it … and they have.”
A restaurant couldn’t ask for a higher honour than winning a properly conducted “Best Restaurant in the Country” competition. While it might be what every restaurateur dreams of, until very recently, it would be a silly dream for a local restaurant. Prior to the mid-2000s, or even 2010, Newfoundland wasn’t exactly the kind province that embraced fine dining, so a more realistic dream for co-owners Jeremy Charles and Jeremy Bonia was simply keeping their doors open. “The main goal of any restaurant is to stay open. And for us at Raymonds, to keep progressing and perfecting what we do. As for fine dining in St. John’s, we just hoped that people would embrace it … and they have.”
The truest challenge for a restaurant like Raymonds in a city like St. John’s these days is the demographic who still think it’s wild to spend so much money on a single meal. “With all the recognition and awards comes the stigma and rumours of being the most expensive place in town, which we are not,” Jeremy says, “but we are not the cheapest either. We are providing those people who appreciate and enjoy good food with an exceptional experience. Some people think its wild to spend $200 to see a concert. It’s all relative.”
The Raymonds experience is an easy sell: it’s more of an experience than a meal. “You’re going to have an amazing night out. You will have the very best ingredients, prepared from scratch by an amazing kitchen crew. You will receive some of the finest service out there. Knowledgeable and trained staff will guide you through the evening, and you’ll eat in one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.” Their building really is as striking as the food.
When asked his favourite meal at Raymonds, Bonia says, “That’s like asking who your favourite child is. We think a true showcase of what Raymonds is all about is the tasting menu, it’s something we pride ourselves on and with wine pairings. It’s a tough meal to beat and a great night out.”
A seven-course tasting menu runs $135 ($85 extra for wine pairing) and a five-course menu is $115 ($65 extra for wine pairing). A la carte entrees range from $40-$49.
The Tale of Two Jeremys
Raymonds is run by two Jeremys – head chef Jeremy Charles, and restaurant manager and sommelier Jeremy Bonia. Damien Lee, a mutual friend, introduced the two when Jeremy Charles came home for his wedding in 2006. “Charles was living in Chicago at the time, and Damien knew that we shared a lot of common interests and thought we should meet. He was right.”
Working together at Raymonds is nothing new for them, nor is national praise for what their two heads can put together. In 2007, just after they met, Bonia went to work with Charles at Atlantica – a fine dining restaurant just ahead of its time in Portugal Cove. In their first year, EnRoute magazine crowned them the Best New Restaurant in Canada. The year they opened Raymonds, they took EnRoute’s Best New Restaurant title for an unprecedented second time.
The year they opened Raymonds, they took EnRoute’s Best New Restaurant title for an unprecedented second time.
The two left Atlantica to start Raymonds, which begs the question, How does a place run by two Jeremys come to be named Raymonds? Homage. They opened their restaurant as tribute to two men who were influential in the lives of the two Jeremys: Charles’ grandfather, Raymond Baggs, and Bonia’s father, Raymond Bonia.
Bonia says he and Charles saw Atlantica as their first chance to start up a restaurant, and be given complete control over the service and food, but at the end of the day it didn’t really feel theirs. “We had no control or interest in the financial side of things, so there was only so much room to grow. We both knew when we first started there that we would one day open our own place.” Their own place has become the finest restaurant in our city, province, and country. Good thing they followed through.
Head chef Jeremy Charles got started on food very early in his professional career, having moved to Montreal at the young age of nineteen to study the culinary arts at St. Pius X Culinary Institute, and he eventually landed a job at Mediterraneo, under the wing of esteemed names like Claude Pelletier and Michel Ross. Several other notable gigs later, Charles became a personal chef for the Molson and Bronfman families. When he moved back to Newfoundland in 2007 and started Atlantica in Portgual Cove, he kickstarted the recent renaissance of restaurant culture in St. John’s.
Manager and sommelier Charles Bonia began his career at another fine dining restaurant in St. John’s, Bianca’s. But it wasn’t just the food he fell in love with there, or the business itself: while at Bianca’s, he developed a serious interest in wine and went on to become a certified sommelier. Jeremy has traveled extensively to research and buy wines for Raymonds. He has been featured in Decanter, Wine Spectator, the Globe & Mail, and MacLean’s, among other national and international publications. He’s even won outstanding beverage professional honours at the Terroir Symposium industry awards.
Their bios and backgrounds made then the men for the job, and they acknowledge the restaurants before them for helping a place like Raymonds have a home here in the city. As Charles has said, “It would be quite challenging to do what we are doing twenty years ago. There have been some fine dining places that came and went, but none that I know of has ever done this sort of cuisine on this kind of scale,” he said, of creating his menu with locally sourced products. Charles infuses local cuisine with both French and Italian cooking techniques.
In addition to regular bookings, Raymonds offer group bookings. Their restaurant has three dining rooms, “each of which can be booked for private meals, board meetings, product launches, seminars, or receptions. The rooms are historical in atmosphere but modern in capability, equipped with screens and full wireless access.” The largest of the rooms can accommodate as many as sixty-five people, and they are happy to work with you on everything from atmosphere and customized food and beverage menus.
The duo are at work on a book that will be published by HarperCollins. “It will be released across Canada in the fall of 2015. It’s a cookbook of sorts, featuring Raymonds’ dishes, ingredients, and purveyors, but it’s also a showcase of Newfoundland and Labrador. We want the world to see how amazing our province is and why they should all visit.”