HFX Fish ‘n’ Chips Quest: John’s Lunch
Last weekend I prefaced my Halifax fish ‘n’ chips quest by blogging about the best fish ‘n’ chips I’ve ever had. Prior to that, my most memorable helping of fish ‘n’ chips was at John’s Lunch in Dartmouth. Little has changed since 1969 when this place first opened, and it still has that charming 1970s vibe. Recently, Canadian Living Magazine declared that John’s Lunch is the best fish and chips in Canada (my beloved Red Fish Blue Fish came in 4th). So, what better place to start my quest than #1 itself. Are.. you… READY?!
Oh. Well, that’s a let down. My fish was over-cooked. My chips were of a generic and frozen source. Coleslaw is not included in the meal. The tartar sauce is the too-small, awkward, packaged stuff. This is the best fish ‘n’ chips in Canada?
To be fair, I know for certain my fish was not overcooked the first time I ate here, so it is possible to have a good meal. The fish is fresh. The prices are good. Everything is made from scratch. Well, almost everything. The fries and tartar sauce leave much to be desired. However, a friend had the ham & egg sandwich and the ham was quality home-made ham, which is impressive. But I’m only concerned with deep fried seafood right now!
We had better luck with the whole belly clams and the haddock tips, which thankfully did come with coleslaw. The coleslaw is finely shredded, fresh and crisp. It is the perfect sidekick to cut through the grease. The portions are huge – underneath that mound of fries there is another mound of seafood! The haddock was fresh and tender, the clams perfectly briny. If you just want haddock tips it’s $11.25. If you just want clams it’s $13.95 and totally worth it.
I think the tartar sauce is the deal breaker here. Even my high school cafeteria had home-made tartar sauce with its crappy, run-of-the-mill clam strips. It was nothing beyond mayonnaise and relish, but there was something so liberating about that giant plop of sauce on my plate. Opening up 10 packages of tartar sauce is not fun. Methodically dumping said packages into a reservoir on your plate is not fun. Neither is struggling to dump an irregularly shaped clam into a geometrically square container. Tartar sauce ought to be free and wild, if not lovingly made to the family recipe.
I wish I could give this place a better review, because it is a local favourite. The fish is battered to order by animated cooks and brought to your table by no-nonsense waitresses. I understand that part of its success is due to the decision to change absolutely nothing. At the same time, it is hard to give the battered crown to a fish ‘n’ chips restaurant that puts so much love into its fish while giving a freezer bag’s worth of care into its chips. Despite my fish being over-cooked, I still love John’s Lunch for what it is. From now on, though, I think I’ll stick to the clams.
352 Pleasant St.