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Nov 27, 2004 08:31 AM

Olive & Lemon, Harbord Street (long review)

  • j

While I've never really heard very many things, good or bad, about Olive & Lemon, I walk/drive by it often enough to be curious about it. Harbord is a somewhat charming little street, and a look inside the restaurant would have you believe that it could be one of those reliable neighbourhood boites.

So last night, with the appetite of a lion forced to go on diet of grapefruit and yogurt smoothies, my dining partner and I made our way to Olive & Lemon.

Upon entering, we were greeted and seated by the hostess, and menus presented promptly. Scanning the predictable Italian menu options, we made our food choices and turned to the wine list to find an appropriate wine. Much to our dismay, the mark-up on wine was in the neighbourhood of 400%. A bottle of Montepulciano that we buy at the LCBO for $10 as cooking wine was listed at $39. The utterly subpar wine list and insane mark-up made it easy for us to forego the idea of wine with dinner.

Our appetizers arrived: a plate of grilled sardines and a salad of blood orange, fennel, and mint. The grilled sardines were very nice -- juicy and not overly salty. The salad would have been great if the advertised blood oranges were used instead of the boring tasteless ordinary substitutes. They could have at least mentioned that they were out of blood oranges rather than hoping that I wouldn't notice the substitution.

On to the mains: squid ink risotto and zuppa di pesce. The squid ink risotto was nothing to write home about. It was nicely presented, with the orange of the giant grilled jumbo prawns contrasting nicely with the blue-black of the squid ink risotto. But alas, the dish merely stained my dining partner's lips to a goth-like black, and added no value to his culinary experience.

My zuppa di pesce looked promising however, with generous servings of mussels, clams, jumbo prawns, fish, and squid. My excitement lasted merely seconds as I soon realized that the only flavour to this dish was salt. WAY too much salt.

Now, the following is truly my error. Upon tasting the zuppa di pesce, I should have just returned the dish to the kitchen. But I have always felt incredibly awkward and guilty doing that... I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. So I continued on, eating the $29 zuppa di pesce like a complacent idiot, meanwhile, knowing that this may have long-term implications for the health of my kidneys (needless to say, I'm drinking LOTS of water to flush out my system now -- hope it's not too late to save them).

So we've established that I'm glutton for punishment. However, my dining partner is equally so. He announces, after finishing his risotto, that he's not yet full. He begins to consider dessert, when really, we should have just left and gotten dessert elsewhere.

He ordered a vanilla chocolate custard cake while I ordered the flourless chocolate cake in hopes that the sweetness will allay the saline-burning sensation on my tongue. Both were complete disappointments. My partner's dessert was like Jello pudding in a squishy sponge cake while mine was completely the opposite of what a flourless chocolate cake should be.

After almost $130 (and remember we didn't have wine!), we left the restaurant wholly disappointed and never wanting to return.

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  1. p
    peppermint pate

    We had a similar experience about 2 years ago. The restaurant has a cozy and inviting decor but the food is totally mediocre. We've never returned - there are far better options on Harbord and beyond.

    2 Replies
    1. re: peppermint pate

      "there are far better options on Harbord and beyond"

      I'd love to hear some of your recommendations for Harbord St. & vicinity. Will be there in about a week. Thanks!

      1. re: synergy
        peppermint pate

        Just saw this note now - other Harbord Street options include...Boulevard Cafe for great Peruvian food. If you visit Toronto often, you may want to save this for the summer as their patio makes for superb, neighbourhood al fresco dining. My dinner at 93 Harbord, a contemporary Meditteranean restaurant, was only average but most rave about it and I'd be inclined to try it again. Splendido is a great high-end restaurant - there's a recent rave posting on another hound's experience with their tasting menu. Finally, there's Messis, a solid neighbourhood restaurant that's great value. Another great patio option in the warmer months.

    2. Great write up on Olive and Lemon - thanks for saving me 130 bucks! That said, 93 Harbord was fantastic - went last week and thoroughly enjoyed it. Found it on the advice on Chowhound and was very pleased. I am a cynic and have found most restaurants in Toronto are a true disappointment. 93 Harbord was a treat and we'll be back.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Derek

        I've eaten there a few times.

        The food is fantastic. I would highly recommends this restaurant, it's got a great vibe and the people running it are very down to earth.

      2. The original comment has been removed