What’s on the menu at Saint John’s Tavern’s new second-floor oyster house and raw bar

What’s on the menu at Saint John’s Tavern’s new second-floor oyster house and raw bar

Including a take on Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits and a $250 seafood tower

Two men and two women laugh at a table spread with seafood and cocktails

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Name: Saint John’s Tavern’s Oyster House and Raw Bar
Contact: 117 John St., @saintjohnstavern, saintjohnstavern.com/oysterhouse
Neighbourhood: Entertainment District
Owners: Brian Donnelly
Chef: Chris Osborne
Accessibility: Not fully accessible
 
When Saint John’s Tavern, an English pub in the Entertainment District, opened in 2022, it quickly became a gathering spot for sports fans looking to enjoy a pint and take in a soccer game. Its lineup of draught beer and plates of bubble and squeak have made it a go-to for English and Irish expats. But, even though the kitchen was already busy pumping out Yorkshire puddings and chicken pot pies, head chef Chris Osborne was ready to welcome an extra challenge.

A table is spread with all kinds of seafood dishes, including a lobster-topped tower, and cocktails

In November of 2023, Osborne and his team transformed the restaurant’s second floor into a cozy sit-down lounge more suitable for date night than game night. The new Oyster House and Raw Bar replicates some of the original tavern’s elements, like a wrap-around bar, wall-mounted televisions, an in-your-face liquor collection, and unmistakably English oak and brick accents. But the dimmed lighting, plush booths and two-person tables create a more intimate atmosphere, perfect for small corporate parties and romantic get-togethers.

Related: Toronto’s best seafood towers

“Adding a more intimate space to our restaurant was part of the conversation since the start,” said Osborne, who grew up helping his mother and stepfather run the now-closed Czech restaurant Heart of Europe, near Queen and Bathurst. “The Oyster House allows us to flex a few new signature dishes that are equal parts classy and approachable—it’s caviar but also cheddar biscuits.”

Two men, both wearing hats and one wearing an apron, work behind a bar and under two shelves lined with liquor bottles

The food

The menu is seafood-heavy, blending East Coast imports like PEI oysters with Mediterranean marvels including charred octopus. There are five hot items and five cold items, in servings that range from one-bite snacks (hello, buck-a-shuck) to grand arrangements that can satiate a work team (like the show-stopping seafood tower). All of it pairs well with a glass (or bottle) of wine.

Crispy, cheesy cheddar biscuits with butter sauce
The crispy, cheesy cheddar biscuits with butter sauce are simple and wildly popular. “They’re a play on Red Lobster’s,” says Osborne. $12

 

Black tiger shrimp with house-made cocktail sauce
Black tiger shrimp with house-made cocktail sauce is already a happy-hour favourite. $22

 

Crispy, pan-seared east coast crab cakes, paired with spicy mayo and lemon
These crispy, pan-seared East Coast crab cakes, paired with spicy mayo and lemon, rival the cheddar biscuits as the bar’s most popular app. $26

 

Four stacks of ahi tuna and crispy rice topped with avocado crema, lime juice, mayo, sriracha, toasted jalapeño and black sesame seeds
Four stacks of ahi tuna and crispy rice come topped with avocado crema, lime juice, mayo, sriracha, toasted jalapeno and black sesame seeds. $18

 

A buttered brioche bun stuffed with lobster dressed with kewpie mayo comes with a side of kettle chips and a lemon wedge
A buttered brioche bun bearing lobster dressed in kewpie mayo comes with a side of kettle chips and a lemon wedge. $26

 

Slowly-poached and oven-baked octopus is blowtorched to crispiness and served with fingerling potatoes. It’s finished with salsa verde and a house romesco
Slowly poached and oven-baked octopus is blowtorched to crispiness and served with fingerling potatoes. It’s finished with salsa verde and a house romesco. $28

 

A whole baked lobster tail dressed with parsley fennel and lime juice is served over a sweet corn purée
A whole baked lobster tail dressed with parsley, fennel and lime juice is served over a sweet corn purée. $35

 

A tin of caviar on ice is served with grated egg, crème fraîche, minced shallots, kettle chips, water crackers and Tabasco
For something fancier: caviar. A tin is served with grated egg, crème fraîche, minced shallots, kettle chips, water crackers and Tabasco sauce. $75

 

A seafood tower with a pound of poached lobster, crab legs, poached black tiger shrimp, eight oysters, eight clams, snow crab claws, a mussel escabeche with toasted garlic focaccia and all the necessary fixings: mignonette, horseradish, melted butter and lemon wedges
The Saint John’s Tower, which can satisfy a dozen snacky people, includes a pound of poached lobster, crab legs, poached black tiger shrimp, eight oysters (four East Coast, four West), eight clams, snow crab claws, a mussel escabeche with toasted garlic focaccia and all the necessary fixings (mignonette, horseradish, melted butter, lemon wedges). “The menu grew from this ‘everything’ dish,” says Osborne. “I call it our original.” $250

 

The drinks

Featuring happy-hour classics with a few big swings, the drinks menu is versatile enough to please any aficionados: there are a dozen beers on tap, more than 35 different bottles of wine, a house caesar and a roster of cocktails that all start at $16 (but can go up depending on your choice of base spirit).

A classic French 75, a sweet and tart mix of gin, lemon and sugar
A classic French 75, a sweet and tart mix of gin, lemon and sugar that pairs well with savoury shellfish. $16

 

A two-olive martini
The martini is an after-work tipple too enshrined to alter. Made with a choice of vodka or gin. $16

 

A whiskey topped with sugar and whipped aquafaba
The bar’s whiskey sour is topped with sugar and whipped aquafaba. $16

 

A woman behind a bar pours Beefeater gin into a cocktail jigger

The space

A central bar is ringed by a mix of two-top tables and booths. That mix-and-match is no accident but an intentional layout meant to facilitate the many gears of a night out. “As much as we conceived this floor to create a more private setting, we didn’t want to lose that connective feeling of a tavern, which comes with people walking around and talking to one another,” says general manager Alia Monteforte.

A bar lined with barstools

Barstools line a horseshoe-shaped bar in a space with exposed brick walls

Two-top tables and barstools in a dimly lit restaurant