photo Darryl James

There are not a lot of female role models in Metro’s culinary scene, but even if there were, Unni Simensen would rank among the top. The talent behind Scanway Catering, Simensen is proof that success is possible in the fickle restaurant world—provided you have passion for your craft, an innate ability to give your guests what they want and no fear of the long hours, hard work and pressures that are part of every business owner’s life. Scanway, Sweet Basil, Cheapside Cafe and (now defunct) Unni’s—all are bound with the common thread of excellence in a minefield industry.

Saege Bistro is the latest venture of the iconic Simensen and son Geir, a talented chef in his own right. I am a longtime admirer of the Simensen matriarch, and as such, was reluctant to approach Saege as a critic—but I needn’t have worried. Saege is everything we’ve come to expect from the Scanway camp, and more.

Saege’s decor is done in muted tones of sage green, brown and cream. A large stone fireplace divides the cozy dining room into an inner area with pastry case and an outer glass-walled atrium.

We choose our starters from the extensive menu—crab cakes ($10.95) and a Vidalia onion tart ($8.95). The crab cakes are served with seared arugula and corn salsa, the bitterness of the greens playing off the sweetness of the corn. The cakes themselves are delightful, rich with crab flavour. But the onion tart steals the show. Sweet Vidalia onions, braised and covered with Gruyere cheese in a delicate pastry shell—this starter is sublime. Mild, sweet onions melt in the mouth; even if you detest onions, this will win you over. It’s hard to let it go and move on to our main courses.

It’s in the mains that I question whether or not the term “bistro” is suitable for Saege. “Bistro” implies simple food, skillfully prepared. These entrees have flavours so complex that sometimes it’s almost too much for one set of taste buds.

Take the duck legs ($18.95), braised and served on duck confit (meat that has been cooked and preserved in its own fat), seasoned with soy, ginger and star anise—delicious. The rack of lamb ($19.95) with sage and mint crusting the juicy chops is just as lovely, and both entrees are served with potatoes and vegetables (baby carrots and heirloom beets) right from the Farmers’ Market.

The dessert menu is extensive, and some may view it as expensive—almost every item costs $8.50. But keep in mind, these desserts are not the pre-made, frozen, pull-from-the-box-add-some-sauce confections that most places rely on. These desserts are what made Scanway famous. They’re creative, from-scratch sweet masterpieces, each one a work of art. The hazelnut gelato with a shot of espresso and biscotti elevates coffee and cookie to a whole new level, and the mouth-puckering lemon flan with raspberry sorbet is a taste explosion.

Early reports of uneven, disorganized service do not prove true on this night, as our server Jessica is outstanding. Her interaction with her tables is brightened by her bubbly personality, her professionalism and her knowledge of both the extensive food menu and the wine list (created by Sweet Basil’s talented sommelier, Wade Dhooge).

Saege is, quite simply, superb. (Lest anyone think I’m wearing rose-coloured glasses, I will point out that my dessert fork had a bent tine, and that on the printout from the credit/debit machine, “Saege” is spelled incorrectly.)

Saege Bistro5883 Spring Garden Road429-1882Mon closedTue-Fri 7am-10pmSat-Sun 8am-10pm

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