Restaurant review: Mosaic by Simo, Christchurch

ALASTAIR PAULIN
Last updated 05:00 05/10/2017
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Chef Simo Abbari at his restaurant Mosaic by Simo.

JOSEPH JOHNSON
There always seems to be a line of people picking up takeout food at Mosaic.
Alastair Paulin
Moroccan lamb tagine with prunes and almonds, served with Arabic rice, smoked barley and salad.
Alastair Paulin
Grilled kebabs of garlic king prawns served with Arabic rice and salad.
Alastair Paulin
Moroccan mint tea, served piping hot, is the ideal way to round out a meal at Mosaic by Simos.

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Admiring a colleague's lunch of leftovers, I sidled up to her in the kitchen and asked where it had come from.

She looked around a little furtively and then spilled the beans: Mosaic by Simo. It's a little Moroccan cafe in Addington. Delicious food, big portions, cheap prices. Did she add: "Psst, don't tell?" I'm not sure, but this was before I had a restaurant reviewing gig and started obsessively eavesdropping on people talking about food.

I was grateful for those loose lips when a hot spring Friday hit Christchurch and I wanted to take a gaggle of teenage boys out for something light, quick and inexpensive.

Mosaic is one of a cluster of uninspiring-looking restaurants in a strip mall in Addington. It is next to a Domino's, which did not inspire confidence, but across the street from the Addington Coffee Co-op, which did.

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Any misgivings were allayed when we stepped inside and were confronted with mint green walls, a  large hookah in the corner and two large glass cases full of colourful, appetising-looking food. Here were dishes full of recently bubbling tagines, riotous salads, huge mounds of spice-flecked rice and couscous, mysterious wraps on ornate Moroccan plates, and a near-empty dish of lemon chicken wings.

Most of these were mezze, the Arab version of tapas. I convened a quick teenage confab in front of the cases to get us started. The youngest wanted to try a beef and cheese roll on the name alone, I would not let us go past the chicken B'stilla and figuring the almost sold-out wings were popular for a reason, we quickly ordered half a dozen.

One of the chirpy young waitresses brought us our selections, presented on a beautiful bed of salad and thoughtfully cut up so we could all share. Trying to decide which was the most delicious was impossible, but the tasting and voting was fun. The B'stilla was a crispy filo parcel with minced, cinnamon-spiced chicken and rice and the chicken wings, with the tang of preserved lemon, were moreish.

With the edge of our hunger knocked off, we could turn to studying the menu. The platters of mezze sounded good but when I considered the reality of having to beat back marauding hordes of hungry teenage boys to spear a tasty bite, I suggested we all order our own dish.

Two teens went for tagines, named for the earthenware pots in which they are traditionally cooked. I was a little disappointed to realise they would be served not from tagines but from chafing dishes, but the rich, deep flavours of the long-simmered lamb with prunes and almond tagine overwhelmed any regrets. The tagine were served with either Arabic rice or smoked barley and a salad. "What is barley?" asked a teen. I got as far as saying  "it is a grain" before I ran out of knowledge and the waitress graciously stepped in to save me. "Why don't I bring you a taste?"

The smoked barley had a nutty aroma and was flecked with finely diced red onion, celery and carrot. It made a great bed for the rich tagines. 

Two other boys went for mains of kebabs, also served with barley or rice and salad. Both loved their selections: marinated Moroccan lemon chicken and garlic king prawns. 

To mix it up, I tried briouats, two filo parcels filled with king prawns, chilli and coriander and served with salad. I couldn't spot or taste the coriander and would have preferred more chilli, but it had a tongue-tingling heat and the prawns were plentiful and tasty.

I was full, but teenage boys never are, so we haggled over the dessert case. We shared a slice of Black Forest cake, some chocolate almond cake and a lemon curd cake. In the interests of research (ahem), I tried the baklava, which was less sticky and sweet than the Greek version I have had before. It was the right accompaniment to the ideal way to round out the meal: Moroccan mint tea, served in a piping hot metal pot.

Too bad that I worked out what the ornate pot holder was for just a moment too late.

MOSAIC BY SIMO: AT A GLANCE
3/300 Lincoln Rd
Ph (03) 338 2882
Unlicensed
Open: Monday-Saturday: 9am-9pm
Price: appetisers from $6, mains and tagines from $17
Cost: $142 for five (excluding drinks)
Food ★★★ 
Service ★★
Ambience ★★
Drinks list ★

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