I’ve gone on in past reviews about the lack of signage on the Beechwood Avenue stretch of this New Edinburgh restaurant. Previous tenants at number 18 – Restaurant Ambiente and for a time before it, Trattoria Zingaro – had no billing, no placard, no announcement of any sort to tell the world (and particularly those travelling eastward) ‘Hey…Here I Am’. If you didn’t know the neighbourhood, you drove right by.
So it was thrilling stuff (truly) to see two smart, black awnings protruding from the red bricks along Beechwood. They say Farbs Kitchen and Wine Bar, loud and proud.
Michael Farber is the chef/owner of Farbs. He comes to his own restaurant by way of Domus Café, where he worked under Chef/owner John Taylor for about three years. Farbs, open since early December, has made only a few adjustments to the modern, stylish space. Bright, café style tables line the windows. Walls have been painted shades of butter and brown. The bar is polished concrete, set with six red-seat stools. There’s a long comfortable bench plump with jewel tone pillows and more high-topped tables with red stools by a centre wall punched with a porthole, allowing a view of Farber and his team at work in the kitchen.
Farber’s talents are first revealed with the amuse bouche. A full flavoured square of his duck rillette comes topped with a cranberry compote brightened with rings of basil oil.
The food here, with a few exceptions, is really very good – well seasoned, precisely cooked, presented elegantly. Dishes are built around strong flavours and solid ingredients and will no doubt change with the seasons. For now, Farber gives us a short list of wintry plates – oxtail ravioli, smoked pork chops with roasted apple, braised lamb shanks with garlic polenta, duck with Swiss chard, hangar steak with roasted mushrooms. Meats are served with root vegetable ragouts, winter mushrooms, and rich, polished sauces.
Highlights over four meals here have included a chewy-good hanger steak with delicious fries and roasted mushrooms; duck confit with a blood orange purée perfumed with cloves and served with caramelized wedges of fennel; and a thickly satisfying pork chop served with wilted greens, fragrant spaetzle and a dark, delicious jus piqued with grainy mustard. All very satisfying.
At noon hour, we’ve sunk teeth happily into a pulled pork sandwich, oozy with Brie, served on an Art-is-in bun. There’s a lovely salad on the menu of greens dressed with a spicy peanut vinaigrette and threaded with candied orange zest and black sesame seeds. And we’ve found the ‘winter slaw’ a satisfying, substantial starter that could, for $11, BE lunch – a threaded, multi colour tangle of winter veggies – including beets, celeriac, turnip and carrot – dobbed with goat cheese and toasted pecans.
The only so-whatish dishes have been a seafood consommé with a too-pale flavour, served lukewarm, and a hangar steak (sliced over parsnip purée perfumed lightly with truffle oil) that was too much of a chew at one dinner. (Gave it another go at lunch a week later, and found it beyond reproach.) The only odd dish has been the “Daily Sustainable Fish”. Twice it’s been Atlantic salmon. Serve me farmed salmon, if you must – tons of restaurants do – but don’t fly the flag for sustainability on your menu and then serve a fish on the No-No list.
For dessert, go straight for the lemon curd, with a ball of lemon sorbet and a sweet little tuile, a puddle of raspberry sauce, some blackberries and mint – so fresh, tasting of cottage docks, of swings, of outdoor concerts on warm summer nights.
Food is great. Room, handsome, comfortable. Service? A problem. A big problem. I am not grumbling about pacing or timing. The issue is attitude and training. Servers can’t answer the most basic questions about the food or the wine list. They can’t be bothered to memorize the two daily specials. Twice, I’ve been told the Atlantic salmon is wild (impossible.) There is confusion at every meal, about who ordered what. I can’t feel any hospitality, any sense of anyone in charge of this big room.
And while it’s never a good idea to dump food on the lap of a restaurant critic, while the kitchen plates a replacement, and companions wait for that to happen, it is customary to give back – a complimentary glass of wine, perhaps a round of cappuccinos at cappuccino time, a free dessert. You certainly comp the dumped dish. It’s a no brainer. None of that was done.
At one visit, servers huddle by the kitchen, chatting, laughing, one on his cell phone, while diners wait near the front door. At another, a waiter changes the bar TV to watch some (of all things) ultimate fighting. What does Farbs want to be? A solidly good neighbourhood restaurant that brings me an amuse bouche, or a sports-bar? The only people I can see interested in the television is the staff. And the restaurant critic.
The food and the room deserve better than this. Fix it chef.