8 Barrows Rd.
Quidi Vidi Village
St. John’s, NL
Ph. (709) 237-7314
Quidi Vidi, the village, is relentless. Relentlessly charming, quaint and photogenic. It seems tailormade for walkers, ramblers and wayfarers. Quidi Vidi Gut, the harbour, was shimmering and the half dozen, colourful fishing sheds on its north side were bathed in the glow of the retreating sun. Exiting our vehicle, I almost felt compelled to start roving around on foot, to explore the narrow roads, view the water, the boats and architecture, and maybe see something new or different.
“Any ducks around yet?” I wondered. But, we had an early dinner reservation at Mallard Cottage. My marl around the village would have to wait.
Mallard Cottage these days is a duality, two contrasting personalities. It has the original dour rooms of almost two centuries, drenched in history, likely home to ancient tokens or spirits and, literally, smelling aged, and the relatively new, sprightly half at the rear with large dining area, open kitchen and wheelchair accessible restrooms. We were seated in the moody, old part.
I’ve dined in both and prefer the new because it’s brighter, and I like being able to see the kitchen.
My ancestors first came to Newfoundland in the 18th Century, like the original owners of Mallard Cottage. From their arrival and through the 19th and very early 20th Century, they were inured to a rough, spartan kind of day to day living. This became clear to me when, as a child, I was taken to see the original Wells homestead in Wesleyville, a two-story affair near our wharf, like Mallard Cottage’s old rooms. It reeked of toil and hardship.
Bare, plank wood floors and walls, single pane windows, kerosene lamps, a wood pile in the corner. Theirs was a quotidian no-frills existence in a harsh climate. They lived off land and ocean. You’ll get a sense of what I mean if you visit Mallard’s antique, original rooms.
When I looked through Mallard’s small, simple panel curtained front window – it was next to our table – I was reminded of the view through my grandparents’ window. It too overlooked the harbour. Mallard’s window had a soapstone carving and kerosene lamp on the sill. More lamps, crockery and a toy dory decorated Mallard’s corner sideboard. The centre of the room was dominated by a two-sided, wood burning fireplace – complete with woodpile – built, according to current owner, restaurateur and chef, Todd Perrin, from bricks of the room’s original fireplace. He told us the new fireplace cost almost as much as the kitchen’s ventilation system. I’m guessing about $20,000.
I was looking forward to some offal or wild game. Mallard is usually good for some rabbit, braised, stuffed, in pasta, curried, deep-fried or rabbit sausage. Perrin told us he has plenty in his freezer, but he’s been saving them for the tourists – although rabbit is currently served as part of Mallard’s famous Sunday brunch.
Year of the Rabbit?
He bought close to 1000 rabbits this year from trappers and hunters in Point Leamington, the same folks who raise those delicious Berkshire pigs served at Mallard. To illustrate how good a year it’s been for rabbits, Perrin told us in a normal year he gets 50 or 60. This year he said it’s been “a steady stream.” Obviously, 2018 is Newfoundland’s Year of the Rabbit, ushering in a significant increase in our local hare’s usual fecundity.
No game and not much offal, except corn fried cod cheeks. I’ve had lamb kidney, sweetbreads, lamb heart and other types of viscera offal at Mallard and loved all of it. That’s the kind of eater I am, an omnivore. Mallard Cottage has always been a place that celebrates food and eating, a refuge for omnivores. It’s not about “dining” or eating just anything. Rather it’s about sharing skillfully prepared, clean, fresh food – all kinds of food, everything, be it nose to tail game, pork, beef, fish and shellfish, locally grown produce or locally foraged mushrooms and berries. (Todd Perrin and I have comporting views in this regard.) Chef Perrin told us the game shortage is due to the time of year. Autumn is your best bet for game – moose, rabbit et cetera – at Mallard. I’m hoping offal continues to be available from time to time.
Mallard’s cod cheeks were served in a bowl with a spoonful of creamy aioli and excellent coleslaw. The cheeks had been coated and deep-fried, resulting in golden brown pieces of cheek. Larger pieces were very good with lots to chew on. I found the smaller pieces too crunchy and dry. Mallard’s aioli helped. I suspect the smaller pieces had been left in the fryer too long. Cod tongues are more forgiving with their jellylike component.
Between courses I ordered a glass of wine and took note of the music playing, Lake Street Dive’s memorable, “Good Kisser,” sung by Rachael Price. It was piped music that night – shades of jazz, soul, R & B, Motown. A contrast to the 19th Century room and vintage collectibles we were looking at. Newfoundland “themed” restaurants might play NL trad. Todd Perrin’s approach has never been cliché. There’s nothing kitschy about his restaurant. Mallard Cottage is part of an historic property that is given respect. That’s what’s required. Mallard features Newfoundland music, regularly, but music that’s performed live and supports the local music industry.
Spouse began with cold, sliced pork tenderloin. It was served attractively, in a silver dish. Presentation was simple: a tranche of overlapping pork slices, anointed with a quick drizzle of balsamic reduction, strewn with hazelnuts and fresh basil leaves. It was all about the pork, delicious, tender, moist and perfectly accented by the vinegar. Spouse thought the dish might have been even better if the hazelnuts had been toasted beforehand. I confess I was focused on the pork and saw the nuts as decoration.
We both savoured the braised beef with confit potato. Everything had a gossamer coating of jus. Underneath gobbets of braised beef – not a mingy portion – were confit potatoes, meaning potatoes likely cooked, slowly, in olive oil. In amongst the meat and spuds were bits of caramelized onion and green garlic. Beneath the feast was plenty of zippy chipotle aioli. We decided that when all three main elements – beef, potato, aioli – were eaten in the same chew, it created a superb taste. Much of Mallard Cottage’s beef is supplied by farmer, Raylene Williams, of nearby Colliers. I enjoyed the beef with an excellent glass of Emilio Moro Finca Resalso.
Coppa of pork
Another Mallard meat and potatoes dish featured coppa. Coppa – I suspect you may be wondering – refers in this case to a cut of fresh pork shoulder. Regularly exercised muscles and in-between fat create a highly flavourful cut of pig that’s perfect for gentle roasting. Slices of coppa, covered in bread dressing, were served with braised shallots over mashed potato. Finally, veal jus was carefully spooned over meat and potato. It was another dish where delectable, tender meat, nicely prepared potato, and an accent sauce made something so good I can’t wait to have it again.
Dessert was a platter of various small confections, neither of which most eaters would turn down: chocolate truffle, glazed doughnut holes – think Timbits, only better – flourless chocolate cake, white chocolate fudge and chocolate mousse. I liked everything; because these treats were house-made with skill, and rich, high quality ingredients. More manna came with the bill, frangible looking pieces of white chocolate bark, so thin they evaporated on the tongue.
Todd Perrin isn’t afraid to speak up in the media when he has something to say. In person he’s often taciturn. So, I was surprised and happy to find him unusually garrulous during our visit. It gave me an opportunity, for example, to ask him about his future business plans. He told me his two guest houses across the street are doing well. He likes how they’re situated and how they look. Each has four rooms. A continental breakfast is provided for house guests, but he says he’s “still trying to figure out the food service over there.” My impression is that he intends to increase food service in the guest houses.
Then there’s the land, now vacant, previously occupied by the Flake House. It’s part of the Mallard portfolio. He said he’s hoping to start construction on a building at the harbourfront location before summer begins, and have it fully operating by the summer of 2019. He’s not exactly sure what form the business will take but he’s certain of two things: the new building will offer food service, of some kind, and it will not offer accommodation.
I meant to ask Todd Perrin about one other project, but he headed back to the kitchen. A reliable source told me last week that the perspicacious Perrin intends to open a butcher shop – possibly a butcher shop and bakery – at the corner of Leslie Street and Water Street West, where Healy’s Pharmacy was located for many years.
Todd Perrin is an excellent chef who, unlike some of his chef colleagues, is also an assiduous businessman. He was smart enough to realize the great potential of using his Top Chef Canada profile, along with the notoriety of a much-loved historic property, in a famous, much loved fishing village, to create a higher end restaurant business. Four years on, Mallard Cottage is still working beautifully.
* Good * * Very good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional
Price Dinner for two with cocktails, wine, tax and tip costs approximately $170.
Atmosphere Casual and relaxed.
Sound level Moderate.
Open Wednesday: 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday to Saturday: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday: Closed
Credit cards Most major cards.
Parking Some parking is available nearby. Mallard Cottage recommends taking a cab because of the limited parking.
Beverages Mallard Cottage offers a range of 12 cocktails created by bartender, Harry Martin. I tried his QEII Fizz, a fizzy tribute to Her Majesty using the Queen’s favourite, gin and dubonnet, as a springboard. It tasted mildly alcoholic and refreshing. Classics such as the Boulevardier, Negroni, Old Fashioned and Manhattan are also available. White, red, sparkling and port wines are available by the glass – sauterne and rosé by the bottle. A glass of wine costs between $9 and $14. Wines from France and Italy loom large on the main wine list. Pints and half pints of draft beer are available from a selection of six changing local and imported brands. A robust list of spirits includes: rye, vodka, tequila, gin, rum, bourbon, Irish whiskey, scotch (single malt and blended) and cognac.
Best bets Cold sliced pork tenderloin, braised beef with confit potato, coppa with mashed potato.
Gluten free options Accommodations can be made if you call ahead.
Vegetarian and vegan options Yes, and accommodations can be made if you call ahead.
Wheelchair access Yes.