I remember those days. When everything went pear shaped and there was a siren blasting in your ears “Don’t make eye contact… Don’t make eye contact”.
Where walking through the busy restaurant was like navigating a minefield, trying to look calm and professional while maintaining a desperate 1000-yard stare. To make eye contact was to feel the wrath of hungry, often drunk and (where I was working at the time) a hail of self important abuse.
My lunch at Simpatico was nothing like that. It was a very quiet Saturday lunch – although we were there bang on 12 o’clock - and there was no chaos that I could see, that warranted the faraway gaze of our waitress. While we hovered at the front door waiting to be seated – she stared blankly at us for a good few minutes as if amused by our presence. And despite being told when I booked that they were full, she just waved at us and told us to choose any table we liked.
Once seated we had to find our own menus, go to the bar to request water and then wave her down to order coffee.
Our lunch wasn’t off to a great start – but it was more a case of “The lights are on but so is the answering machine…” rather than any lack of motivation or talent. Maybe she had a great date the night before?
The service didn’t get much better – but the food did. Although I had already looked up the menu online and decided on what I wanted – we were told in no uncertain terms – that the plates were designed for sharing and we should choose at least 4 between the three of us. It wasn’t so much a suggestion as it was an order – but it was the most interaction we’d had out of her so far – so we jumped on it.
I’m embarrassed to say that during the flurry of gossip and rumbling tummy’s – I was a bit late on the photos. We started with the fried green olives and roast garlic mayonnaise – plump green olives in a crunchy breadcrumb were divine with the creamy aioli. Even the Journo, who is not a fan of anything fried, was enamored by these salty little gems.
Following in quick succession were the Scallops with Avocado and Radish; Pear and Witlof Salad; Tossed Garden Salad and Duck Breast with Lentils. The Scallops, although a little on the small side, were quickly seared and subtlely sweet. The simple salad was a perfect accompaniment and the crunchy radish and silky avocado gave a beautiful contrast of textures.
The Garden Salad was crisp, fresh and perfectly dressed and hinted at the Kitchen's love of quality, seasonal produce.
The star for me – surprisingly – was the Pear and Witlof Salad. I have had this before at other Restaurant's and been horribly disappointed. It wasn’t my choice but I will admit to eating the lion’s share of it. Super crisp leaves of cos and witlof, shaved dewy pears and toasted walnuts, scattered with nuggets of earthy blue cheese was mindblowing. I was actually inspired to recreate this at home.
The duck was the only let down – a little on the dry side and the lentils slightly chalky. It was fine, and excellent value but after the success of the first plates – it was just lacking. Did we eat it all? You bet - although it wasn't as good as the other dishes - we still cleaned the plate!
The Verdict: A truly great eatery with interesting and well executed dishes. The service was a bit patchy on our visit but I have friends who go their regularly and assure me this was an off day! I will definately go back.
Reccomendations: The idea of share plates is a good one - otherwise treat the dishes as a healthy sized entree. The olives are divine, next time I will order 2 bowls of them, and you cannot go past the Pear and Witlof salad - as long as the pears are still in season!