Friday, 31 December 2010

Sidart, Ponsonby

I hadn't heard about Sidart until I saw them receive the accolade of Metro's Best New Restaurant in Auckland for 2010, early in the year.  Since then, they had been on my To Do list and for my birthday Jane booked us in for what was to be a superb meal.

Located upstairs in the dated Three Lamps Plaza in Ponsonby overlooking Auckland city, Sidart has seating for ~34 people.  Seating is not as private as some other top restaurants in Auckland, however this did not detract from the meal.

A 7 course tasting menu was on offer, of which we could order any items as entrees or mains if we desired, but we opted to go for the 7 course degustation; I also decided to go with the accompanying wines.

Each dish was prepared with love and a lot of thought.  The accompanying wines also worked well, and were generously poured.  From manuka & coffee-smoked dishes where there was a glass over the meat and the smoke released at the table to creative morsels such as crab ice-cream, soy & mirin whip and inky black parsnip puree, each dish was something special.  I was expecting a bit more molecular gastronomy but was not at all disappointed in each of the fine dishes I was presented with.

We thought there may have been an amuse bouche and possibly a palette cleanser such as a sorbet but this was not to be.

From a service perspective the wait staff were exceptional and explained each dish in immense detail including being able to answer any probing questions we had along the way.  In terms of the wine, our waiter explained the characteristics of each wine and why it was a good match.  The food arrived in a timely manner and the wait between courses was quite appropriate.

It was a magnificent meal and we will very happily return.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Pane & Vino - Italian Trattoria

I'd planned to make pasta for dinner the last 2 nights running, however, in classic post-christmas recovery mode, we've managed to fail to buy eggs on both days.  So we just figured we'd pop out for whatever we could find, with a couple of options high on our list of intentions - bearing in mind that Auckland has both emptied out and seeminly shut down for the christmas period.  Sure enough, the first 3 restaurants we had in mind were all shut.  And then we fortuitously did a u-turn near Pane & Vino.  Simon had this traditional little Italian trattoria on his 'must try' list, so try we did.

Pane & Vino (warning - you'll need to mute your volume or pause the track if you don't like streaming wav while browsing!!!)
20 Williamson Ave

Firstly, let me just say that Tito is one of those amazing individuals who defines the term 'larger than life'.  He is a force of a nature, a bundle of energy, a caricature of Italian-ness, and while I'm fairly confident that almost every time he spoke to us it was in Italian, his accent is so very present, that even his english was fairly Italian!  I love to see any business owner with his level of passion and utter love for what he does!  He is never short of a heartfelt smile, and regularly sings along with whatever modern or classic Italian track is being played, while he easily moves from waiting, to cooking, to serving, to barista, to convivial host!  I could go on all night, but I really ought to get to the food!

We decided to share the special starter of the evening - a classic bruschetta with garlic, buffalo mozzarella, tomato & fresh basil. This was absolutely delicious.  Loads of garlic, but beautifully balanced, the mozarrella was lovely, and the tomato full of flavour.  The bread itself was a smidgen burnt on the edges, but every mouthful was so good, I almost forgot about that.

Next, Simon had the special ravioli of the evening - a carrot & parmesan ravioli with a tomato & beef ragu and parmigiano reggiano - this was rich, hearty and packed with flavour.  Oh - I should also mention that we ordered a 1/2 litre carafe of their house-red-wine - a montepulciano.  This was served classic trattoria style from a jug, in standard table glasses. I did mention this was traditional trattoria style didn't I?!

Ok, back to the main course - I decided to NOT order pasta, seeing as I really do enjoy making my own, and would rather try something that I'm not planning on doing at home.  So I settled on Calamari ripieni alla viestana - whole squid stuffed with bread, egg, parmesan, garlic, and cooked in a tomato & white wine sauce.  The sauce, like Simon's, was rich and bursting with flavour.  The squid was unexpectedly tender, and very good. I would order this again.  It was served with a small salad and a basket of bread - which was perfect for mopping up the last of the sauce. We also had the steamed green veges with garlic, which was a bowl of green beans this evening.

As we were finishing our meal we saw a pizza at another table and it looked absolutely amazing - we may yet be back later this week for pizza!

I overheard another diner ordering tartufo for dessert.  We weren't planning on having dessert, however I can never find tartufo on menus in New Zealand and it was one of my favourite dining memories from our time in Italy, so we did decide to share one of these this evening.  It was really very good, but we are glad we shared a single dessert rather than both ordering something!

For something a bit different to end on, I ordered a Maretto - an espresso shot with lemoncello.  I'm not sure, but it tasted like it was almost a half & half ratio of coffee to lemoncello!  Good thing Simon was driving methinks!  I'd never thought of pairing coffee & lemoncello - it was surprisingly good!

Prices were generally lower than I'm used to paying for Italian in Auckland - we paid about $90 for a shared entree, a pasta main and a non-pasta main plus a side of veges, a shared dessert, alcoholic coffee & 1/2 litre of wine. Their corkage for BYO is also very reasonable at $5.

Yes, we will be back, we will take others with us and we will recommend Pane & Vino to friends.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Unison Syrah 2006, Gimblett Gravels, Hawke's Bay

With a lovely berry and leather aroma, this medium length deep red/purple wine has medium tannins and is packed with dark berry flavours.  This wine should keep well for a couple of years (at least), and is drinking well now.  With its tannin structure, a Scotch Fillet steak would be a great accompaniment.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Askerne Hawke's Bay Reserve Chardonnay 2007

With a rich golden straw colour, this wine has a nice light oak aroma.  On the palate there is light oak, a little bit of acid and a nice buttery flavour.  With a medium length, the wine lacks complexity but is quite drinkable.  Read now.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Peregrine Pinot Noir 2007, Central Otago

I have enjoyed a number of Pinot Noir from Peregrine Wines in the past but this one was sharper and more acidic than I expected. 

This is a very deep red (bordering on black) coloured wine that has a light plum aroma.  On the palatte, the plump body consists of plum and cherry flavours, a medium tail, and a wine that was not as soft as I expected.  The sharpness and acid did soften a little once aired. 

It was okay, but I do wonder if it would be better in another year.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Epic Stout 2010… this is one heavy beer.

epic stoutVery dark in colour, this stout from the Epic Brewing Company is an international collaborative brew between NZ and the UK that is aged in oak and not for the faint hearted.

On her first taste, Jane’s description is very apt.

"It’s like chewing on a board of smoky cedar.  Ohhh, but it has chocolate at the end of it."

It has a nice chocolate aroma, a very strong smoky cedar & malt flavour with medium-long duration.  For my taste buds, it’s a bit too heavy and bitter (I see it’s 6.8% alcohol, so that will be a contributing factor), but that may be more a statement of where I’m at on my stout journey. 

The beer did accompany chilli remarkably well, and Jane is quite happy to drink it again.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Cardrona Speights Ale House, Mt Eden

We had a very disappointing meal out at Cardrona Speights Ale House in Mt Eden last night.  We have been here in previous years and had good meals, but last night we were there with friends as part of the quiz and it was definitely not flash.

I started with a Porter to drink which I thoroughly enjoyed.  For my main I had the Drunken Steak which I requested to be rare.  The majority of the steak was in fact medium-well and the sauce wasn’t anything special.  Jane had the Pig Hunter, which is a huge pork loin; she enjoyed the dish.  Others at the table had the salmon (described as the most tasteless salmon they had ever had) and a beef salad, that had more kumara than anything.

For dessert I decided to have the Chocolate Mud Cake and Jane had the Cromwell Crumble.  45 minutes after placing our order I went and asked if they were far away and then proceeded to cancel the orders about another 10 minutes later.  We got our refund but they did insist of bringing the desserts anyway and were very apologetic (which was good).  The Mud Cake however came without the fudge sauce but the Crumble was good.

So, all in all not a great night of food and we won’t be back in a hurry.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Shaky Isles - Kingsland, Auckland

We were planning on meeting friends for brunch on Sunday morning, and wanted to go somewhere that had an entertainment book coupon.  We both remembered enjoying coffee at Shaky Isles previously so figured we'd give it a go.

Shaky Isles
492 New North Rd
(parking out the back!)

I do like the environment, and particularly the big outdoor benches.  We sat inside on Sunday - it was reasonbly busy when we arrived, although got progressively busier and noisier during our brunch!  You certainly couldn't say the place has no vibe!

Their menu is a little different to the norm (a good thing!), but delightfully flexible, so if you like your traditional eggs bennie, or scrambled eggs with bacon, you can build pretty much whatever you desire.  Simon and I both had the Bruschetta with scrambled eggs, tomatoes, feta, spinach & basil pesto, Simon also had a side of spicy kransky.  We'd both definitely order this again.  One of our brunch companions had the Crumpet with dates, poached pear & orange ricotta - and a side of poached egg because that's what she felt like! I love that this was no hassle - I do get frustrated with cafes that are unwillingly or incapable of deviating from the exact menu.  And the final meal at our table was the aptly named 'Isle have it all' - aka the big breakfast!  It's safe to say we all enjoyed our meals and would more than happily return.

Simon also had a kiwifruit, mint, lychee, banana smoothie - this was really good and very refreshing.  My long black was great, as was my cappuccino.  Simon wasn't sure about the blend used for his trim latte.  I really appreciated that they use different beans for their different coffees - and you can swap and change here as well if you like.  I'm tempted to order 3 long blacks one day - 1 of each blend, and do a vertical tasting!

In summary:
Love the flexibility of this cafe, the food is great, fresh & delicious, and the coffees seem dependable.  We will return and we will recommend to others.    

Cannellini Bean & Fresh Vege Salad

I had another 'I really don't want to go to the supermarket' day today so had to get creative about dinner. The result was further proof that necessity is indeed the mother of invention. The only meat in the freezer was lamb shanks or a whole free range chicken - and arriving home at 2pm dictacted that these were not options! I did however have 3 cans of cannellini beans! Yay! I love them, Simon's not so sure.

My resulting salad was fresh, vital and delicious. I really enjoyed the different textures - from the crsip fresh veges to the smooth avocado and the meaty cannellini beans.

Cannellini Bean & Fresh Vege Salad

1 small red onion
1 head of baby cos
1/2 red pepper
1 avocado
small handful fresh coriander leaves
1 can cannellini beans - drained

2 T good quality olive oil
2 T lime juice
1 t garlic crushed
1/4 - 1/2 t ginger

  • First make the dressing by combining all ingredients in a shaker or jar and shaking. Alter seasoning to taster.
  • Build in the bowl in the following order (so the beans and avocado don't smush through the salad):
    • very finely sliced red onion
    • red pepper cut into thin matchsticks
    • cos - I removed the white cores from each leaf then used a plastic lettuce knife (to prevent the leaves from browning) to cut into thin curly bits
    • roughly chopped coriander leaves
    • freshly cracked black pepper
    • pour the dressing through a fine sieve (the garlic will have infused through, and it's better without the lumps!) over the salad and toss at this point
    • now add the cannellini beans and the diced avocado and gently mix before serving
Absolutely delicious and nutrionally - well, you can eat this meal and feel truely virtuous!