Colin Bebbington has a full plate. Three years since returning to his hometown of Halifax with a slew of Michelin-starred stints on his resume, the 34-year-old chef known lately for his popular pop-up kitchens is about to do something entirely new: Open a permanent fine dining location. And in prime harbourfront real estate, to boot.
Bebbington’s Tribute is the latest restaurant to be joining the yet-to-open Cunard development on Lower Water Street, The Coast has exclusively confirmed. And it comes along with two more eateries, including the previously-linked ASIA (backed by restaurateurs Zoey Boosey and Kent Scales) and a yet-to-be-named venue by the same folks behind The Bicycle Thief and il Mercato.
“It definitely feels good to not have to move or even think about it,” Bebbington jokes, speaking by phone with The Coast. He says he’s been in discussions about the restaurant for “probably two years.”
As for settling with the menu? Far from it.
“It’s definitely not going to be traditional,” he says. That extends to the restaurant’s layout. “I don’t want any walls up to hide the cooking. I think it’s important that people, in this day and age, see how their food is cooked. On the same level, it’s educational and entertaining.”
Bebbington will open Tribute with more than a few notches on his chef’s apron. After honing his skills at the Culinary Institute of America—think sous-chef Sydney from FX’s The Bear—he worked in Michelin-starred restaurants from Chicago to London, UK, including at Spiaggia (where Barack Obama celebrated his US presidential election win in 2008) and Davies and Brook, where Bebbington joined the opening crew under three-Michelin-starred owner Daniel Humm. The latter experience, he likens to “learning from a Kobe Bryant.” (“They push you like you’re in the NBA,” Bebbington says. “What they do to your career and how they change you as a person is absolutely incredible.”)
In Bebbington’s newest venture, he plans to bring a little bit of each experience to the table—starting with installing a “large log fire and charcoal grill,” he says, that will form the centrepiece of the kitchen and the primary cooking method “for pretty much everything.” That’s how he learned to cook fresh pasta under Top Chef winner Joe Flamm at Spiaggia on Michigan Avenue. It’s also how he cooked at London’s Chiltern Firehouse—a place he describes both as “hands down, the hardest restaurant I’d ever seen in my life” and “super fun.” (Bebbington, like all chefs, is wired a little differently.)
“We [cooked for] 800 people a day and everything came off the grill,” Bebbington tells The Coast. “There’s no buttons; there’s no thermometers. It’s just live fire and charcoal. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
The grill is one thing. Then, there’s the pasta itself. Last year, Bebbington spent three months in Bologna, Italy, learning from Alessandra and Stefania Spisni, a mother-daughter duo who taught him how to hand-roll and shape his own tortelloni (a pasta similar to, but different from tortellini), starting with flour, eggs and a rolling pin.
“I was over there doing that for 60 hours a week,” he says, calling it “on its own level” from the kitchens he’d worked in—and an environment that allows “zero exceptions, zero cutting corners, zero bullshit.”
“I mean, the amount of history, the culture, the passion, how much the culture and food is integrated… There are very few countries with that kind of gastronomical history,” Bebbington adds.
“When I was over there and tasting it for the first time, it’s like you’re getting reintroduced to what pasta is supposed to be.”
So: There will be some traditional parts to the menu. (Pasta will figure prominently.) But Bebbington isn’t afraid to venture off the beaten path, either. At his first pop-up restaurant in Peggys Cove, he used nasturtium—a flowery, edible plant native to South and Central America—to spruce up a tuna and watermelon crudo, served over a bed of quinoa. He’s paired purple potatoes and chimichurri with beef short rib.
Bebbington says the drink menu won’t be extensive.
“We will always focus on wine first,” he says. “We’ll have a small, seasonal cocktail list that will rotate. And we’ll probably have a couple local beers, but ones that support the food on the menu.”
The plan is for 42 indoor seats with a full view of the boardwalk and Halifax Harbour. Longer-term, there are plans for a waterfront patio. And while Bebbington says there’s no set opening date in 2024, it’s certainly keeping him busy.
“We’re moving along ambitiously,” he says.
Sea Smoke owners in discussions on several waterfront locations
One tidbit not covered in last week’s 2024 restaurant preview? The same owners behind ASIA and Sea Smoke tell The Coast they’re “in negotiations with three other spots… all on the waterfront area” for a trio of food-related projects they’ve yet to announce. That includes a third location of Vandal Doughnuts, which Boosey and Scales took over ownership of in 2023.
Vandal opened its second location last month, on Portland Street in Dartmouth’s downtown—a launch that went “really well,” Boosey says.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting stuck in and creating new flavours with the pastry chef,” she tells The Coast. “I’m excited for Vandal. It’s got so much potential.”
It’s not yet clear where on the waterfront the new Vandal Doughnuts would open.
Bertossi Group mum on word of new restaurant
In addition to Tribute and ASIA, The Coast can confirm that the Bertossi Group—which owns The Bicycle Thief, il Mercato Trattoria, Pane e Circo, La Frasca and Ristorante a Mano—will be opening a new venture in the Cunard development.
What it will be, though, remains to be seen. The Coast reached out to the Bertossi Group for comment, but did not receive further details beyond a confirmation of the project.
“As the restaurant opening approaches, we will share more details through press releases,” the group said in an emailed statement.