Open since late May, this is a second restaurant for Michael Tatsis and family. Their first Aroma Meze, opened in 2006, is found on Nepean Street. I reviewed it then and I liked pretty much everything about it. So what joy to read of a second Aroma Meze, opening in Wellington West in a former hair salon.
Indeed, I visited mid-summer brimming with enthusiasm – which quickly evaporated. I gave it a few more weeks, revisiting a bunch of times in September, but nothing rose above mediocrity. As this Aroma Meze shares a menu with its big sister, I either need to return to Nepean Street to see if the cooking has slipped, or conclude, regrettably, that the kitchen in Wellington West is weaker.
The look has a weakness, too. The picture windows facing both Wellington and Ross streets are blue glass, tinted so you can’t see through them. It’s not inviting. Indeed, you wonder if the place is even open.
If it weren’t for the blue light from the windows and door, and from the bottom lit bar top, the room would be fine enough. But the lighting is cold and unflattering, and the room feels gloomy. Or maybe the blue light just adds to my blue mood as meze after meze after small plates are delivered and I just can’t summon enthusiasm for any of them.
There’s a lot of choice on this menu and it makes for a lot of reading. There are dips, of course, and they are largely OK, though some could use a flavour boost. The grilled pita seems pretty supermarket ordinary, though it comes nicely warm from the grill. I’ve liked the olives. And I’ve liked the spicy lamb sausages, though they’re somewhat sodden from their soak in oil, and arrive lukewarm.
If you like your sausage dishes on the sweet side, you will like the sausage with orange and fennel. If you like nutmeg, you will like the moussaka, for nutmeg is the predominant flavour. But much of this food lacks smack.
The seafood dishes – squid, smelts, shrimp – all speak of weak, frozen product. The grilled calamari is tough, the fried calamari is salty, greasy, missing lemon. Ditto the spicy smelts. The organic salmon is dry and overcooked. The shrimp with peppers and onion look pretty enough – the pink, the red, yellow and green – but they’re dull, tough and taste of flour. The gnocchi also taste of flour.
Zucchini cakes have overcooked edges and undercooked guts. They are inedible mush inside. The “mini hamburgers” (biftekia) may be stuffed with cheese, but they’re not stuffed with flavour.
I can smell the brandade cakes as they approach my table. They are so bad, I send them back – and I rarely send anything back. (They are removed from the bill, and we are offered free dessert.)
Pan-seared red deer is “deglazed with moscat (sic) of Alexandria wine, in a sweet ivory juniper (?) and pink peppercorn sauce, served rare.” It may sound fancy, but the venison is tough and juiceless, with a stewed flavour clinging to it. Nineteen dollars buys you four thin, overcooked, under seasoned lamb chops.
So what worked? Service was kind enough, and they have a nice wine list, mostly old world treats, with good choice by the glass (three- and five-ounce pours). Though, gee, I wish they wouldn’t serve the wine as though their accountant were perched on a shoulder. I ordered a three-ounce refill of a Greek wine I was enjoying, and the bartender measured it out (in front of me) in a shot glass, one, two, three thimblefuls. Didn’t feel very Greek to me.