Mera Cafe + Bar is big on storytelling | Food | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
Danish smørrebrød is on the menu at Mera Cafe + Bar, the newest restaurant to open on Barrington Street.

Mera Cafe + Bar is big on storytelling

The Barrington Street cafe’s co-owners aim to fill a void with locally-sourced dishes that are as much about highlighting the food’s producers as what ends up on the plate.

It’s a bright Halifax afternoon, and Mera Cafe + Bar head chef Sunpreet Singh takes a break from the kitchen to survey the scene: The restaurant he and co-founder Khushkaran Chahal first teased in October on the ground floor of the Jade Apartments (1595 Barrington Street, or what used to be the old Discovery Centre) is buzzing with the final rush of lunch patrons, a day into its opening. Above the cafe’s music—light, atmospheric—a din of coffee orders and table conversation unfolds. A steady stream of new diners filters in through the cafe’s entrance.

It’s a surreal moment for the longtime chef and first-time restaurateur, even if he’s loath to dwell in the spotlight.

“It’s a team effort,” the slim, tattooed chef says, speaking with The Coast from a lounge chair in the cafe’s entrance. “The whole team came together: Everybody doing a little piece here and there.”

Having honed his culinary chops working in the kitchens of Hawksworth and Vij’s in Vancouver—the latter awarded a “Bib Gourmand” distinction by Michelin—Singh is banking on bringing something different to his new home in Halifax: A focus on fresh, farm-to-table fare, where the story is as much about the food’s origins as it is about what ends up on the plate or in the morning cappuccino. Singh stresses a “completely transparent” supply chain as forming the foundation of Mera’s approach.

“If we’re getting anything, we’re sourcing it from the best person possible,” he tells The Coast.

click to enlarge Mera Cafe + Bar is big on storytelling
Martin Bauman / The Coast
Mera Cafe + Bar chef and co-owner Sunpreet Singh (right) prepares a salad for his kitchen staff.

It reflects on the menu: Mera’s lunch offerings include a roasted beef sandwich—sourced from Osprey’s Roost butchery—with a house-made remoulade and rotating vegetables picked from the Annapolis Valley. The sourdough comes from Luke’s. This week, Mera’s farm salad highlights foraged Japanese knotweed—pickled in-house, Singh adds—along with sweet cicely, lemon balm, candied buckwheat and ricotta salata cheese. The menu changes with the season. When the kitchen runs through its supply, Singh says that his team, in all likelihood, will rework it completely into something new.

“It could run for a week—and the next week, farms have something different to offer,” he says, growing in excitement. (Singh is much more at ease talking about food, as opposed to himself.)

“We’re not going to big [suppliers] and getting something out of season, because we don’t eat like that. We go with nature. So whatever nature is offering us in the landscape of Nova Scotia, we take that and we offer that. We’re working with farmers, we’re working with producers, we’re working with meat producers up in the [Annapolis] Valley to source the meat, the wine, the vegetables, everything directly into our restaurant.”

click to enlarge Mera Cafe + Bar is big on storytelling
Martin Bauman / The Coast
The coffee and pastries at Mera Cafe + Bar don't disappoint.

The restaurant’s name (pronounced MARE-uh) comes from the ocean: Mera draws its roots from both French (mer) and Sanskrit (samudra), Chahal tells The Coast. Just like the sea, it has many faces: By morning and afternoon, the Barrington eatery serves as an upscale cafe—think coffee, three-grain oatmeal and Danish open-faced sandwiches—before it will, in the months to come, transform by evening into a cocktail lounge with a full-blown tasting menu. The restaurant has enough seats for 70 diners, split into a front lounge and rear dining room.

For now, Mera is open for breakfast and lunch service from 8am to 3pm. Singh and Chahal are waiting for the restaurant’s liquor license to be approved before expanding into dinner service. The evening offerings “will be much more intimate” and reservation-based, Singh says.

In the meantime, duty calls: The chef returns to the kitchen. He’s promised to whip together a hearty salad for the staff. Once again, he’s back in the place he’s most comfortable: With a countertop full of food in front of him, an audience to feed and no guides to follow but his own inspiration.

Update: Mera Cafe + Bar started its dinner service as of June 12, 2023.

Martin Bauman

Martin Bauman, The Coast's News & Business Reporter, is an award-winning journalist and interviewer, whose work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Calgary Herald, Capital Daily, and Waterloo Region Record, among other places. In 2020, he was named one of five “emergent” nonfiction writers by the RBC Taylor Prize...
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