Try the shrimp roti and fried fish at this Caribbean spot on the Danforth
Simone’s Caribbean Restaurant is located at 596 Danforth Ave. in Toronto
A few years ago, a reader of this column tipped me off to Simone's Caribbean Restaurant to try the shrimp roti.
"Roti is not necessarily Jamaican but it arcs back to how diverse our food culture is," said owner Simone Lawrence.
Lawrence describes her cooking style as "light, bright, simple and clean."
The shrimp roti is a great example, a chunky union of peppers, potato and beans cooked down to the point where the sauce has a slight creaminess to it. Where normally I succumb to that heavy feeling after finishing half a roti, here the experience is more uplifting.
The spices are muted, the flavours lift off the plate. For some time the shrimp roti was the only thing I ordered at the restaurant.
"It's not that we're a seafood restaurant but I find that people really love the shrimp roti and the fried fish here. Those are two very popular dishes," Lawrence said.
Lawrence also has jerk chicken on the menu; it's served with the usual rice and peas and your choice of how much oxtail gravy you want on it.
But unlike other plates, again the flavours and spicing are bright and vibrant, not as dark and roasted and earthy as the usual plates you would encounter in this city.
The jerk chicken is a testament to how Lawrence runs her kitchen: no outside sauces and everything is made to order.
A few months ago, I finally tried the fried fish. A thick steak of kingfish is marinated and cooked in a tomato sauce, with a medley of vegetables and herbs. Once the sauce is thickened to Lawrence's liking, it is served.
"What I like about this dish is that the fish has this meaty quality but it then has the slight spice and the sweetness from the peppers. I try to avoid heavy flavours. Light, bright, simple and clean every time."
My personal tip: get a side order of festival to go with the kingfish. It's a Caribbean dumpling made from a sweetened dough of corn meal, coconut milk, sugar and lemon may seem like a wild pairing.
I find that the cake-like quality of the dumpling makes for a great vehicle to mop up the sauce on the plate once you've enjoyed the fish.
Lawrence found the home of Simone's Caribbean Restaurant during a long walk on a hot summer day along the Danforth-Bloor strip.
"I was committed to finding a place on the Danforth because I liked the aesthetic of the neighbourhood, and this sense of inclusiveness. So I did it the old school way," Lawrence explained.
She consulted with her mom, Donna Ogilvie, to help her with the search.
"When I first saw this space, it didn't say anything to me. But then I saw a pair of lilac trees in the back patio, and I knew that is why Simone fell in love with this address," Ogilvie said.