Story by Mariellen Ward
Vacay.ca Senior Writer
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — When I went to Halifax for the Titanic centenary, in mid-April, I didn’t really have food on my mind. The port city of Halifax had played an important role in the aftermath of the sinking on April 15, 1912 and I was preparing for the emotionally charged commemorative events. (Read “Halifax respectfully honours the Titanic”.)
But to get into the spirit of the Titanic-themed weekend, and to enjoy the bounty of the seas at some of Halifax’s most renowned restaurants, I ate a Titanic-inspired meal each evening — and sushi every afternoon for lunch, twice at the iconic Hamachi House on Morris Street, a must-visit spot for sushi lovers.
What did all these meals have in common? The succulent seafood that Halifax restaurants deliver straight up from the sea. I know we live in the jet age of refrigeration, blah blah blah, but there is nothing like fresh seafood when you’re in a coastal town like Halifax. And that’s what I ate, even when I was eating Titanic. In fact, my first Titanic meal, on Friday, April 13, was at The Five Fishermen. The Titanic-inspired first-class service menu included seafood options for almost every course.
On April 13, 1912, when the Titanic was blissfully steaming across the Atlantic toward her destiny, the building housing The Five Fishermen was home to John Snow & Co. Funeral Home. After the sinking, when the Halifax-based cable ships brought the recovered bodies back to port, the first-class passengers — including the richest man on board, John Jacob Astor — were taken to Snow’s.
As I waited for my first course to arrive — Oysters a la Russe — I chatted with the staff about the building’s history. They pointed out the wine room, encased in wrought-iron, and told me it had been the lift that brought remains up to the second floor; and they also told me that two ghosts haunt the building — and one is a little girl who died on the Titanic.
While the first-class passengers on the Titanic ate their way through 21 courses, the prix-fixe menus in Halifax were, thankfully, only four and five courses. After the fresh, plump oysters and rich, velvety Consommé Olga, I chose Poached Salmon Mousseline and skipped the dessert, Waldorf Pudding with American Ice Cream. Predictably, the seafood was stellar, but the consommé, with its one perfect scallop, stole the show.
On the evening of April 14, just hours before the actual time of the sinking — 100 years before — I was very happily ensconced at The Press Gang, a very fine restaurant housed in the oldest building in Halifax. I loved the rough-hewn stone walls and low, beamed ceilings. It was all very atmospheric and set the right tone, a kind of antique elegance, for a first-class dinner, the best I ate in Halifax.
The Press Gang menu was in five courses, and also offered Consommé Olga and oysters, but this time the oysters were served with ginger and cucumber ice. They were so good they provoked me to do something I don’t think I have ever done before in a restaurant: order seconds. And the good-natured staff at The Press Gang happily brought me another helping. The third course was a sharp, refreshing Punch Romaine Sorbet, which seemed very authentic to me, and for my entree, I again had salmon; and again skipped the Waldorf pudding dessert.
On my final night, I ate at Elements on Hollis, the fine dining room in the Westin Nova Scotian. I chose some dishes from the Commemorative Titanic Dinner Menu, and some from the regular menu. Elements is known for serving sustainably grown ingredients sourced from within a 50-mile radius, so the food was particularly wholesome and fresh.
By this time, I was expecting oysters, and I wasn’t disappointed — the oysters in Halifax are divine — and more poached salmon, which was also fresh and delicious; plus an outstanding roasted squash soup with a dash of maple flavouring. But I drew the line at Waldorf pudding. It was on every menu and I didn’t want it. The lovely people at Elements brought me a melt-in-your-mouth, rich and decadent, flourless chocolate cake.
And with that, I ate almost as many first-class dinners as the real Titanic passengers. While those exact menus may never be resurrected again, visitors to Halifax can find seafood dining experiences in many of the city’s restaurants that will no doubt be unforgettable.
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