First Bite: Symphony 8

symphony8The Hub has seen a rash of new restaurant launches in the last month, headlined by the Back Bay’s Bistro du Midi, Woodward in the Ames hotel, Lord Hobo in the old B-Side space in Cambridge, and the South End’s Coppa, which opened last night (!). Amid all that tasty news, one quiet debut almost went nearly unnoticed: Symphony 8, located right next to the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s home base (and a stone’s throw from Boston magazine HQ).

Replacing the Malaysian restaurant Tiger Lily—one of those Tiki-inspired places which specialize in things like scorpion bowls and chicken curry in a pineapple bowl, and which we liked to go to and say we didn’t—the newcomer is actually two restaurants that share one kitchen. The Symphony 8 side is a casual bistro serving things like Niçoise salad and baked Brie, while the other side is an Irish pub named Siansa 8, which focuses on Irish staples like shepherd’s pie, corned beef, fish and chips, and all-day Irish breakfast. Pizza and burgers are served throughout. Both sides offer more than 55 beers and a fairly mainstream cocktail list, heavy on the flavored vodkas. (We also hear there’s a “speakeasy” named Prohibited downstairs, but we haven’t yet made our way through the secret door.)

On an evening visit to the bistro, we opted to share the baby spinach and goat cheese salad with candied walnuts and marinated wild mushrooms in warm bacon vinaigrette ($9), the “hog wings,” a.k.a. deep-fried bone-in pork shanks ($9), and a New Haven Classic Red pizza ($13). The salad, while well-dressed, was heavy on the cheese and bacon but easy on everything else; a few more ‘shrooms would have taken it from unexpectedly gluttonous starter to hearty dinner salad. The pork shanks were crisp, salty, and flavorful, if a bit dry, though dipping them in the accompanying creamy chipotle sauce helped. As for the pizza, Symphony 8 won’t be giving Pepe’s or Sally’s any competition—it’s far too heavy on the sauce and has a too-thick, too-soft crust to pass as a New Haven-style pie—but given that this is a bar in Boston, it’s a passable attempt.

On the other hand, a lunch of shepherd’s pie ($12) at Siansa 8, the pub side of the restaurant, was worth a return visit. Too many shepherd’s pies around town are just beef and/or lamb stew topped with a too-thick layer of mashed potatoes, and are either too chunky, or soupy than the real thing. Siansa’s version is just right, the texture of the meaty base somewhere between a thick chili or Bolognese and accented by peas and carrots, and it’s crowned with just enough potato to give it heft.

The only thing that had us scratching our heads was the dishware, a ceramic “bamboo” bowl and plate that we can only guess was inherited from Tiger Lily. And it’s not the only nod that they give the old TL; for those who are so inclined, there’s also an “Ode to Tiger Lily” scorpion bowl on the drink menu.

Symphony 8, 8 Westland Ave., Boston, 617-267-1200, symphony8boston.com.