Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Promoting The Recognition of Cuisine as a Manifestation of Culture.

Aroma – A Pervasive Characteristic or Quality

Felipe Gomes’ Aroma Mediterranean Restaurant and Adega Wine Bar

A restaurant’s location is as crucial to its success as good food and service. Restaurants come and restaurants go, and sometimes it’s the space that helps define the experience. One location that has always managed to produce appealing restaurants is the one in an old heritage building on the southwest corner of Richmond and Piccadilly Streets. The building has a distinctive, intangible quality; an aura: the aroma of success.
In its early days as a restaurant, the site was occupied by famed London restaurateur and the original owner of the Auberge du Petit Prince, Ginette Bisaillion. After selling the Auberge du Petit Prince to the incomparable Chef Chris Squire in 1976, Bisaillion later opened the elegantly casual but upscale French-themed Café du Midi where Aroma is now. With delicious French offerings, airy ambience, ivy-clad yellow brick walls, wrought-iron furniture and Mexican tile floors, Café du Midi quickly became a mecca for the culinary community and the ladies who lunch. Those were the days of leisurely liquid lunches, and Kir was Café du Midi’s signature cocktail, made with a quantity of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) topped with crisp, dry, redoubtable French white wine.
If memory still serves, there were several other incarnations in this space, including the Summerhouse, a short-lived but delicious Italian bistro, Woody’s and most recently, Mark Kitching’s much-venerated Waldo’s of London, which occupied this space for a remarkable eighteen years before moving to its present location in the Covent Garden Market.

The latest manifestation at this location is Aroma Mediterranean Restaurant and Adega Wine Bar, which has been owned and operated by Felipe Gomes for almost five years. Felipe Gomes was born in Lisbon, Portugal and immigrated to Canada almost a quarter of a century ago. Gomes, a dynamic community leader, has served on the board of directors for Tourism London, the Rotary Club of London, and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Through these associations, he has been involved in many charitable initiatives and community fundraising events. Gomes is a former hotel man (assistant general manager at the downtown Hilton, director of food and beverage for the Sheraton Hotel, and director of operations for the Meridien Hotel in Lisbon, Portugal), and among other abilities, was trained to handle the vagaries of budgeting, advertising and marketing of special events. He is also the founder and owner of F.G. International, a dedicated and experienced group of London professionals who have provided conference management and event planning services since 2000. The company has been instrumental in facilitating several local festivals and special events that have included the Chef’s Club, Greek, Chinese and Italian festivals, London Idol and a “Tribute to Elvis.”
In 2004, Gomes was a co- executive producer of the inspirational historical documentary Strong Hearts, Steady Hands, chronicling the story of the Portuguese community in Canada, from the historic day in 1953 when the first Portuguese pioneers set foot on Canada’s shore to fifty years later. In recent times, Gomes’ efforts have been focused on Aroma and his successful culinary corporate team-building workshops classes, as well as a variety of on-going charitable initiatives and Portuguese cultural awareness.
Promotional material for the culinary team-building workshops for corporate training and leadership development states, “Our experts offer the ultimate culinary experience, while enhancing the skills of the participants in communication, cooperation, cohesiveness, encouragement, and team spirit through team effort.” Aroma offers these cooking experiences for both private and corporate groups. The classes are tailored to meet the needs of each unique group, whether the purpose is team building or pure entertainment. The team-building programs take the participants out of their corporate atmosphere and place them into a fun, non-stress social situation where the accent can be refocused onto the team, without the pressures of the workplace. Cooking a meal brings out the creativity and ingenuity of the individuals and enhances their skills, while putting the emphasis on cooperation, achievement and morale.
The premises are an expansive, well-appointed subterranean courtyard and atrium, with additional private rooms and facilities for the popular team-building cooking classes for 60 people, and video conferencing facilities. This incarnation of the premises has an additional room known as the Adega Lounge Wine bar. (The Portuguese word “adega” is derived from the Greek word meaning storehouse or repository.)
The Adega Lounge Wine bar is modeled on a traditional eighteenth-century Portuguese wine cellar and a throwback (in a good way) to a style of décor and an experience that typify Old-World charm. The room has become a cozy haven for wine enthusiasts. (We recently sipped Mateus there - not the medium-sweet frizzante rosé in its distinctive narrow-necked, flask-shaped bottle designed to appeal to the rapidly developing North American and northern European markets in the 1950s and 1960s, but instead a delicious contemporary dry white version in a straight-sided and high-shouldered bordeaux-shaped bottle.)
The feeling of the Adega Lounge and Wine Bar is that one has come upon an excavation where the restaurateur has been quarrying through layers of time to unearth vintage ports, wines, and gustatory delights of a bygone era. In renovating the restaurant, Gomes discovered a 600-square-foot space that had not been utilized for over fifty years behind the plaster and drywall at the front of the building. On one visit to the restaurant, our server Brooke told us that the room was filled from floor to ceiling with accounting records and papers from a prior business in this location. Solid walnut beams and the exposed interior yellow brick face helped inspire Gomes to faithfully replicate the ambience and dining experience typical of a Mediterranean countries, one not commonly found in contemporary restaurants.
The wine bar houses a vast array of ubiquitous international wines and port, some of which are featured in a built-in, reinforced and recessed vault in the floor. This precious repository sits on a sandy base that is also strewn with ancient pottery and bronze medallions. This display, covered by a solid transparent lid of heavy tempered glass, resembles a preserved excavation that patrons can walk across or stand on to peer into its contents. The room is decorated with wine barrels, tapestries, paintings, crystal decanters and cruets, antique Middle Eastern accents, and other relevant cultural paraphernalia.
Aroma’s Mediterranean-inspired menu features cross- ethnic specialties from the countries of the Mediterranean basin, including southern France, Italy, Greece and Spain, and showcases the predominantly rich, filling and full-flavoured dishes characteristic of Gomes’ Portuguese heritage. The menu is a unique combination of cuisines, very approachable for the average diner, with many selections that will be familiar to patrons. In homage to the cuisine of this region, the menu features a delicious and fresh daily fish special, think fresh red snapper, stone bass and dorada (a.k.a gilthead bream) as well as tilapia (quelle horreur) and salmon as regular selections.
Try the healthful Caldo Verde, a traditional Portuguese soup featuring kale. Lobster bisque from this kitchen is a delicate, silky, creamy, meaty, highly seasoned soup of French origin.
The grilled piri piri (sauce of small, fiery chili peppers) chicken with sea salt, garlic and olive oil is a traditional version of the Portuguese specialty that is gaining mainstream popularity at restaurants like King of the Pigs and Tiagos at the Covent Garden Market. The Chorizo Pizza, described on the menu as a Mediterranean thin crust topped with homemade chorizo sausage, roasted red peppers and wild mushrooms, may not have had a particularly thin crust but it was delicious and appeared to be house-made, with toppings that were flavourful and well-balanced. Chorizo is a delicious smoky pork and chili pepper sausage originating from the Iberian Peninsula – in this case, house-made – and is itself a standout ingredient on the menus. Gomes, I am told, has his imprint all over the menu, including the delectable signature calamari tubes stuffed with well-seasoned bread crumbs, mushrooms and chorizo and topped with a fragrant Andalusian sauce.
The dessert selection was presented on a large tray in the European style. The desserts were displayed fully garnished, and our dessert choices were served right off the platter that came to our table. The crème brûlée, resembling traditional Portuguese custard more than typical crème brûlée custard, was returned to the kitchen to prepare the contrasting layer of hard crystallized sugar topping. It was delicious, as was the coffee. On another occasion we were served a traditional Portuguese custard tart and a 4- berry cobbler.
On weekends, Aroma often features Mediterranean-style entertainment that includes opera, Fado (a Portuguese music genre that typically includes a singer and guitar), Spanish guitarists, Flamenco (the traditional music of the Andalusian gypsies), and jazz.
Distinctive, pervasive and usually a pleasant or savoury scent, or the odour of wine imparted by the grapes from which it is made, the term “aroma,” like the name of Felipe Gomes’ restaurant, embodies an agreeable odor or pleasing fragrance, especially of food, drink and spices.

Hours of Operation
Sunday - Thursday 11:30 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 12:00 p.m. -11:00 p.m.

717 Richmond Street, London, ON N6A 1S2
TELEPHONE: (519) 435-0616
EMAIL: fg_international@bellnet.ca
WEBSITE: www.aromarestaurant.ca