Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy fantasy, fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Dishes #1
Length: 3 hours and 10 minutes
Published by Dreamscape Media, Starlit Publishing on June 1, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
There is a restaurant in Toronto. Its entrance is announced only by a simple, unadorned wooden door, varnished to a beautiful shine but without paint, hidden beside dumpsters and a fire escape. There is no sign, no indication of what lies behind the door.
If you do manage to find the restaurant, the décor is dated and worn. Homey, if one were to be generous. The service is atrocious, the proprietor a grouch. The regulars are worse: silent, brooding, and unfriendly to newcomers. There is no set menu, alternating with the whim and whimsy of the owner. The selection of wine and beer is sparse or non-existent at times, and the prices for everything outrageous.There is a restaurant in Toronto that is magically hidden, whose service is horrible, and whose food is divine.This is the story of the Nameless Restaurant.
“Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger,” or so the t-shirt goes. There’s a wizard’s corollary to this that goes, “Wizards should not meddle in the affairs of jinn, for they are not subtle at all and very capable of schooling foolish wizards who overstep while they are spooning up dessert along with the wizards’ deflated egos.”
But that dessert occurs at the end of this tasty meal of a book. There are plenty of delicious courses before you get there.
The story in The Nameless Restaurant is also the story of a day in the life of this nameless restaurant, a tiny, hole in the wall place hidden in downtown Toronto where the magic of delicious meals happens at the hands of the restaurant’s magically adept owner-chef.
That chef-owner’s day usually begins with prep for the evening meals for his usual, but mostly supernatural, customers. On this day, Mo Meng, has to alter his routine due to an interruption by a spoiled brat of a jinn demanding that he serve her and her wizard companion a meal, right that minute with whatever he might have on hand.
Mo Meng grumps about both the interruption to his routine and the overbearing willfulness of his “guest” but still complies with her request-couched-entirely-as-an-order. She doesn’t even bother to pay for her meal when she’s finished the best meal she’s ever had.
But the destruction she might leave in her wake if he calls her on it simply is not worth the trouble.
Not that trouble doesn’t follow her back to the restaurant that evening. And that’s where things get truly fascinating, as we hear not just the details of the mouth-watering dishes that Mo Meng prepares, but we also get a ringside seat for an epic confrontation between a jinn who has, in fact and really truly, seen it all and done it all for millenia, and a gaggle of human magic users who think they’re all that when they really, really aren’t. A fact which Lily is more than happy to school them ALL in while she savors her dessert.
Escape Rating A-: Anyone who loved Travis Baldree’s Legends & Lattes is going to eat The Nameless Restaurant up with the very same spoon. If you’re looking for something to tide you over until Bookshops & Bonedust comes out, The Nameless Restaurant is definitely it!
The format of this little chef’s kiss of a story is “a day in the life”, but what a day and what a life! At first, the fantasy aspects are pretty minimal. It’s clear from Mo Meng’s musings and grumblings that he is a magic-user of some kind, but the details are covered in the sauce of his meticulous descriptions of food preparation.
It’s only when the pot of the story is fully on the boil, when the irregular regular denizens of the restaurant gather for what sounds like a spectacular meal (as all meals in that restaurant seem to be) that the reader gets some real hints about the nature of both the place and community it serves and why Mo Meng serves it.
Which is where both the fun and the tension come in. While everyone in the place is magical in one way or another except for Kelly the waitress, the Nameless Restaurant is warded to be a place where most of that magic gets left outside – except for Mo Meng’s cooking skills, of course.
So the tension in the story ratchets up slowly as the reader gets hints – and picks sides! – in the upcoming conflict. Which, when it comes, is explosive – but not in the way that the urban fantasy setting might lead one to believe.
This is, after all, a cozy fantasy. So what is brewing in that little place isn’t a battle – but it most definitely is going to be a takedown. With dessert. And leaves the diners eagerly anticipating another night at the Nameless Restaurant, while the reader is left salivating for the next installment in this delicious series!
One final word of caution. You are probably familiar with the warning about not going to the grocery store hungry, out of the very reasonable fear that you will attempt to buy the entire store because in your hunger it ALL looks good? This book takes that one step further, as it should be issued with a caution not to drive to the grocery store while listening, as not only will you be tempted to eat the entire store, but you’ll end up disappointed because nothing you consume will measure up to the temptations described in the story.