By Michael Lowe
It’s been exactly 16 months since I tasted the food of Niagara Chef Adam Hynam-Smith. Diners like me who have followed Hynam-Smith’s career have waited patiently for him to resurface.
The wait is now over. Last week Hynam-Smith and wife Tamara Jensen opened Dispatch Restaurant, a bricks-and-mortar restaurant in downtown St. Catharines where chef’s creativity is free to fly and do what he does best. Located on the site of the old Lincoln movie theater, the space is modern, cool and classy without an ounce of pretension. The restaurant’s logo is a delta-wing shaped, folded paper airplane design, which clearly represents the approach at Dispatch (photos below).
We are there just one day after the doors were opened to the public. I don’t usually jump on restaurant openings. In most cases restaurant teams need time to hit their stride, mainly because they open too soon. But I make an exception here — if anyone can be trusted to be ready, it’s Hynam-Smith.
Be prepared to go on a journey, a sort of culinary flight, as chef and his team offer an imaginative collection of drinks and dishes. Hynam-Smith’s travels, including the Middle East and Asia are represented in many of the menu items. I start with an intriguing cocktail, a Tom Yum Caesar, named after the traditional Thai soup. The libation is a great way to whet the appetite. With its layered flavours, subtle spiciness and shrimp-salt rim — it’s savoury, balanced, slightly salty, delicious.
Our first dishes reveal more influences from chef’s travels abroad. There is a creamy, delicate house-made ricotta with sea buckthorn, lavash and za’atar (photo above). There’s a tart/sweet/nutty character to the dish and the crisp flatbread is the perfect vehicle for transporting the ricotta to your mouth. Lamb manakish, a pizza-like flatbread, is spread with herbs and minced lamb (photo below). Sea buckthorn again makes an appearance, this time with labneh, the strained, thicker version of yogurt.
Monkfish has been called poor-man’s lobster because of the meaty texture. It’s not common on local menus so to see it here, makes it an easy choice for me (photo below). Eggplant and feta with a fresh herb salad topping match beautifully with the chermoula and the sweet ladyfinger. The fish, sourced from New Zealand, is simply the best I’ve eaten anywhere.
Dry aged duck breast is served with an ingredient, which is somewhat uncommon, but very delicious—Jerusalem artichoke (photo below). There’s an earthiness to it, which matches nicely with the duck and the king oyster mushrooms. Soured onions, made with the reserved whey from the ricotta, add depth and balance to the dish.
For dessert, we share the rose muhalebi, a sort of rice pudding (photo below). It’s infused with orange blossom and topped with pistachio and kadayif — crisp, phyllo strands. The dish is a textbook example of textural contrast with the coffee granita adding a cool contrast to the warm pudding.
Dispatch will appeal to diners looking for something upscale yet casual. Another new twist in dining has been the recent trend toward no tipping. Dispatch is one of the few following this direction, and I applaud that decision. In addition to the inventive dishes, look for house-made ingredients in their amazing cocktails. There are also plenty of wines available by the glass making pairing easy for wine lovers. But don’t hesitate to ask front-of-the-house guy Michael Kapusty to make recommendations. The staff at Dispatch are well trained and many are veterans of the hospitality industry—and it shows. To reserve at Dispatch, either call directly or download the Resy app here and prepare for your journey.
386 St. Paul Street,