Bar Kismet, Halifax: The surprising place you'll find one of Canada's best restaurants

It's the perfect time of year to be in the second smallest of Canada's 10 provinces.

The temperature has dropped enough to turn the dense foliage that surrounds the small city of Halifax a stunning array of colours, and it's not too cold to wander the Nova Scotian capital.

It's also much easier to slip into one of its lauded restaurants, minus a booking, for Halifax is fast becoming a culinary destination, with excellent breweries and distilleries too.

While cruise ship passengers are lured to lobster suppers served at Halifax's harbourside restaurants, more cutting-edge dining can be found in the city's up-and-coming north end.

It's here, on hip Agricola Street, where Bar Kismet occupies the space of an old home from the 1800s. It's decorated with lush green ferns and big windows looking out to the street, and it's centrepiece is an impressive bar, where award-winning bartenders create tempting concoctions.

But the star of the show here is chef Annie Brace-Lavoie's small plates, where seafood and the humble vegetable play starring roles. Presented on kitsch, mismatched crockery, raw scallops served with lemongrass and a little heat kickstart the appetite. Flavour-bomb chantarelles bathed in beurre noisette surround raviolo with a whole egg yolk intact, oozing decadently when sliced open. Carrots have serious umami, caramelised with honey and buttery apple. But the Oscar goes to the ahi tuna tartare, loaded with capers, quail egg yolk and spicy mayo and served with a heart-stopping pile of crispy-thin allumette fries. 

You could spend a solid week eating your way through Halifax's restaurants and breweries, factoring in at least one more return visit to Kismet (it's little wonder they've been voted Canada's 15th best restaurant). Strolling the 30-minute walk back into downtown Halifax will take you past Chain Yard Urban Cidery, apple country's first in Halifax, and the new Sourwood Cidery, which makes raw, unpasteurised cider, which you can sample from four rotating taps.

There's no shortage of craft beer either. Propeller Brewing has a shopfront for takeaways, a busy and hip bar out the back, but perhaps the biggest surprise is what's happening downstairs; a dark room filled with arcade games, a surprisingly common aspect to bars in the Maratimes. Stillwell Bar - a dedicated beer bar representing Nova Scotia brews in a contemporary space that also serves great food, and the dessert (which rotates) is worth saving room for. And there's an even bigger arcade game space downstairs.

While natural wines aren't massively popular like they are in say Montreal, Little Oak Wine Bar on the waterfront is a Scandi-style space that serves natural wines and small plates with locally sourced ingredients. It also snuck into Canada's top 100 restaurants this year, as well as its top 50 bars.

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For such a small town, the high-end late night eating options are superb. For more casual burgers, you could head to Stillwell which is open until 2am. But for more gold-standard dining, HIghwayman tapas bar serves a mean tapas for those that missed the boat at Bar Kismet, whose kitchen closes at 10.30pm. It also slings locally caught seafood such as scallop crudo and tuna conserva, and a pisto manchego, a mountain of smoked vegetables with topped with shavings of Spanish cheese.

Sunday brunch is also popular, for which you might want to squeeze in Edna's, a popular local North End restaurant, and occupy a space at its cheery, sprawling bar. Here's a hint; order the crab cakes, velvety snow crab served with a jalapeno viniagrette and apple and celery slaw. Then pop by the LF bakery next door - a traditional French bakery - for a crisp, buttery kouign amman for dessert.

But if there's only time to get to one restaurant in Halifax, my money is on Kismet, whose small plates you'll dream about for a long time to come.

MORE INFO

FLY

Air Canada fly to Vancouver from Melbourne and Sydney, then on to Montreal, and Halifax; Aircanada.com

TOUR

Atlantic Tours offer fully-guided trips over 13 days to the Canadian Maratimes, encompassing Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The bus tour includes all accommodation, breakfasts and admission tickets, starting from $4311 per person. Meals in Halifax are not included. See atlantictours.com

STAY

Cambridge Suites Halifax provides spacious rooms in the heart of downtown Halifax; cambridgesuiteshalifax.com

The writer was a guest of Destination Canada and Atlantic Tours & Travel

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