The days when you get a call from your Boyfriend saying “don’t plan anything for dinner tonight. I want to take you out” don’t come too often so, no matter what you’ve been thinking about cooking, it’s time to put it aside. Especially when you discover that you’re going to New Zealand’s only Moroccan restaurant – Simo’s in Christchurch. I’ve been a fan of Moroccan flavours for a long time and Simo’s didn’t disappoint.
We were booked in for an early dinner at 6.30pm and, when we arrived, were the only people in the place. But, rather than making us feel in the way as can be the case sometimes, the staff really made an effort to put us at ease, showing us to our table in the warmly coloured rooms, dispensing menus and tempting us with the idea of a Moroccan cocktail. Cocktails are going to be my downfall in New Zealand, I can tell. I never can say no. This time I was glad that I hadn’t even tried to. Unfortunately I can’t tell you too much about them as the mists of time and, perhaps, alcohol, have dimmed my memories of what they contained but let it suffice to say that if you’re offered a cocktail in Simo’s, don’t turn it down.
As little cards on the tables and the waitstaff explained, Simo’s had won the Meadow Mushrooms Grande Entree Award of Excellence 2004 so we decided to see what all the fuss was about and share their entry, Trio of Meadow Mushrooms, for a starter. The Trio consisted of an Olive Oil preserved White Button Mushroom, Charmoulla Marinated Swiss Brown Mushroom and an Oven baked Portabello Mushroom. Mushrooms in any guise, as far as I’m concerned, are a good idea but my heart sank when the dish arrived at the table. It was a carefully layered and plated arrangement but, I thought, smacked more of style than substance. By the first mouthful I had forgotten such traitorous thoughts for this was a well-balanced dish, with different pungent and strong flavours in each bite. Before long we had managed to make our way through the Trio and were awaiting our main courses. The Boyfriend had chosen Lamb Tagine to put his fears about tagines to rest, after having a few greasy experiences in Morocco last summer. Judging by the speed it disappeared there was little comparison between the ‘real’ Moroccan experience and the Moroccan restaurant option! I had the fish of the day which was baked with chermoulla and served with one of the ingredients that I’ve been noticing lately – Israeli couscous, which has grains much larger than the normal Moroccan couscous. After tasting it in Simo’s I promptly bought a bag of it the next time I saw it on display. Time to figure out how to cook it soon, methinks!
Although we didn’t really feel that we needed desert, the Boyfriend, still having flashbacks to his time in Morocco, was tempted by the Moroccan Sweet Mint Tea. As this could come with a selection of pastries, I didn’t hesitate to encourage him in his choice and this proved to be the perfect ending to a truly wonderful and relaxing meal.
Simo’s is located at 114 City Mall, Cashel Street in Christchurch. Phone: 03 377 5001