Oysters and Otherworldly Experiences at the Five Fishermen
My friend Laura and I long ago discovered that the BEST kept secret in downtown Halifax is the oyster happy hour at the Five Fishermen Restaurant & Grill. For years, we’ve been kicking off misbehaving nights out (of the grownup variety) with a couple dozen oysters, accompanied by a libation or two.
So what’s an oyster happy hour? Some of the region’s best oysters at half-price, shucked right at the bar, that’s what. The kicker? They do this every night of the week from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. What did I tell you…best.kept.secret.
Naturally, I called in my faithful partner-in-crime for my meal at the Five Fishermen. And naturally, our night began with a bevy of the pearl-producing gems. The variety of oysters changes depending on what’s fresh and available, but generally includes one to two Nova Scotia varieties, such as Sober Island. That night, we toasted our tradition with a glass of Grand Pré Tidal Bay, the foolproof companion for any seafood dish.
The Five Fishermen is a mainstay in the city. It’s the go-to recommendation for fresh, local seafood for visitors and locals alike. But while I’ve had my share of meals in the main upstairs dining room – mostly when out-of-town guests are trying to curb a seafood hankering – I had never actually had a full meal in the grill downstairs. So after our oysters, we decided to stay put and see what the downstairs portion of the restaurant has to offer.
What we found was a casual, and equally delicious, alternative to the more formal upstairs dining room. A great choice for locals looking for fresh fish, but not necessarily up for the full Five Fish experience. The menu is chock full of options for both seafood enthusiasts and landlubbers.
Despite having each devoured a dozen oysters, we saw no shame in trying a plethora of appetizers. It was all in the name of research and for your reading enjoyment, of course.
Together we chowed down on the restaurant’s famous chowder, seared scallops, calamari and Black and Bleu beef tenderloin.
Every single item was cooked to perfection. The scallops were seared on the outside and meaty on the inside, chunks of seafood rounded out the bowl of chowder, the tenderloin was cooked rare, and the calamari had bite, but wasn’t rubbery in the least.
Amazingly, we still went on to have mains after this. Not surprisingly, more seafood…when in Rome, I suppose. I can only speak to my baked haddock with its lemon chive beurre blanc (because I couldn’t fit in another bite to try what was on Laura’s plate), but what I can tell you is that the freshness of that fish is the reason people trek from all over the world to visit Nova Scotia. Thick, flaky and, fresh-outta-the-water delicious.
Before we left, we took a quick trip upstairs to look at the historic dining room that’s become a famous landmark for the city. It had been awhile since I had been there and I had forgotten what a distinctive feeling you get as you climb the stairs and get a view of the opulent room, complete with stained glass windows, ornate wooden chairs and ship pillars. But it’s not the extravagance that creates an overwhelming sensation. Rather, it’s what you can’t see.
My experiences at the Five Fishermen have always been a bit eerie, otherworldly even. Truthfully, I thought it was just its proximity to the neighbouring Liquor Dome; one can get a scare there, you know. But our tour guide, Sean Neil, explained that the building is haunted. The stories from the building are many, but suffice it to say nearly every staff member has one. A quick visit to the Five Fishermen’s website turns up a small sampling:
“Many of the staff of the Five Fishermen Restaurant are so used to odd occurrences that they wouldn’t even bat an eye when a glass flies off a shelf with no one near, or when cutlery on a table shifts then falls to the floor by itself. There are many sinks in this building, and with so many sinks come many taps… taps that like to turn themselves on and off with no human assistance.”
Piqued your curiosities yet? Between the oysters, the delectable meal, and the entertainment value of a good ghost story or two, it’s high time you stopped waiting for your next out-of-town guests and go make a night of it at the Five Fishermen. There’s a reason visitors put this at the top of their must-do list. You should, too.