Rocking the Island | Restaurant Reviews | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Rocking the Island

Rock Island Cafe is pleasant and simplistic, if not exceptionally so.

"What's the name of that sauce?" my friend shouts out of his office. "The spicy sauce they used in everything at Rock Island Cafe?"

"Outerbridge's," is quietly shouted from the next room. That kicky sherry pepper sauce was the trusty ingredient that brought an authentic taste of Bermuda to the menu of Rock Island Cafe, a vibrant spiciness that would let you "catch the Island vibe."

There is not much of the island left at Rock Island Bistro. The room is still bright yet intimate, but thankfully lacks the dull, pulsing glow of flat screen televisions that overwhelmed the space in the past. The walls are bright, with mirrors and artwork bringing a bit more light and airiness to the cozy space. The menu includes a mix of small, medium and large plates with varied culinary influences. It's hard to tell the difference between what makes a plate medium or large, aside from the price. There is nothing fussy or overwrought on the menu, but nothing pops, either. Our server is helpful, pointing us towards popular dishes and house specialties.

Encouraged by the constant onslaught of rain, my companion begins with French onion soup ($6.75), which charms from the first bite. It's incredibly well-seasoned, sweet with caramelized onion. The golden dome of puff pastry on top of the hot bowl cracks wonderfully and melts into the broth to delicious results. The broth is delicate---I had expected something heartier---and the tender strings of onion and bits of gooey cheese make for bite after bite of delight.

Our server stops by to refill our water and check in on the table, returning not long after with our entrees. Not 10 seconds after tucking our plates in front of us, he offers fresh black pepper. We decline, as we haven't had a chance to take a bite and it's nice to have the opportunity to taste food before committing---something I wish more restaurants took into consideration before trotting out the mill.

We do, however, almost instantly regret turning down the offer. The island wrap ($8.75) is desperately bland, especially in contrast to the beautifully seasoned soup. After only a few bites, my friend frowns, disappointed that the billed chipotle mayo completely lacks presence. The buttery green flavour of avocado dominates, and there is no heat or complexity in the wrap due to the lack of punchy flavours. The chicken is moist, but bland, and the watery tomato and lettuce adds nothing but bulk to the filling.

The accompanying salad is nice and fresh, colourful with shredded carrot and candy cane beets. The balsamic vinaigrette is nothing special, but makes for a refreshing hit of acidity on what has been a sapless plate.

My chicken supreme ($13.75) has the immediate benefit of a peppercorn sauce, creamy and generously dotted with a rainbow of peppercorns, giving each bite a savoury snap. The chicken, though moist, is sadly under-seasoned, as are the roasted potatoes. A small pile of bell peppers and carrot, blackened with perfect grill marks, adds a fresh crunch to the meal. I don't find the peppers marry well with the sauce, but the crispy sweetness of the veggies on their own is probably my favourite part of the meal.

Our server refills our water glasses one last time, letting us know to take our time. A pleasant graciousness has been consistently present throughout our meal. The food, too, is pleasant, but there's no sense of vibrancy. I leave wishing I could say that there is inspiration in the menu's simplicity, but aside from the soup, there is nothing incredibly memorable. Without the "Island vibe," there doesn't seem much of a vibe at all.

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