Review: La Chagra

17 August 2018

I made my way to Medellín after a frustrating series of flights that involved South Florida (less so) and Panama (more so). What a crap airport Tocumen is…a bloody glorified bus stop. Wait, not even glorified. Ugh… Mess of a hotel, but I was looking forward to dinner.

I had found La Chagra about a year ago by accident when I started looking at heading back to South America and wanted to revisit Colombia. Their philosophy and cuisine seemed quite interesting, focusing on the culture and plight of the natives of the Amazon. For all the enticing pictures they posted on Instagram (they don’t have a website, which really should be rectified), I was intrigued.

I was greeted and shown to my table, and my experience was about to begin. It’s not just an evening for dining, but it’s the whole experience… After I chose to go with the full tasting menu — la Pasión Amazónica — they brought an aromatic hand towel and then an interesting wee apertif…

01-chuchuhuaza aperatif

It’s aged whiskey infused with chuchuhuaza, as well as honey, cinnamon and other herbs. Interesting to say the least. Then my drink arrived, a mojito made with some unique local ingredients…

D1a-mojito

Tasty, though a little thick at points due to the use of exotic fruits. Then the next dish, a wee drink made from chontaduro, a local palm, with a cracker topped by the head of the mojojoy (larva of the palm weevil).

02a-chontaduro

Pretty interesting, the flavour of the soup helped along the rather bland cracker. But then we have the interesting next dish that comes with all the dry ice effect…

03a-mojojoy

Yep, it’s the rest of that mojojoy, and it was meaty and tasty — as it was also partly stuffed with pirarucu (which features prominently in the cuisine here). Then my excellent server invites me into the inside (my table was on the balcony) to show me photos on the wall of the deforestation of the Amazon and how it damages the ecosystem of not just the region, but the entire continent. As I mentioned, this was an experience, and this tied into the next dish.

04b-farina

The farina is sauteed in pirarucu butter, with a touch of onion and coconut, all topped by some tomatoes. Really nicer than you’d expect. Then we have a little tapioca cracker with smoked pirarucu and amazonian peppers.

05b-tapioca

Really tasty, the mild pepper working with the smoked fish very well. As my drink was done, they brought out my second drink…a local take on the gin and tonic…

D2a-gin and tonic

Pretty nice, again using local exotic fruits to accentuate this drink. Then a larger dish appears with more smoke…

06a-pork wrap

The 2 breaded green plantain balls were not bad, but the smoked pork wrapped in a local leafy veg was quite delicious. So far this meal has been interesting — and rather quick. Dishes are coming out in matter of minutes after I was done, so that’s good. Next up, pork belly.

07a-belly

Done as a protest against fracking in the Amazon, this pork belly with borojó was absolutely fantastic. The sauce is like a better version of hoisin, and they got a winner here. The side is a rice ball with coriander and basil, a nice accompaniment. Best item of the night so far. No let up, next up is a tribute to local vegetables called the “exhausted jungle”…

08b-vegetables

A really nice set of items, but the beets were the best. Lovely bacuri vinaigrette here, bringing much out of the vegetables. Good stuff. Then we move into the bigger items, first up is the pirarucu roasted in butter…

09-pirarucu

Unfortunately it was way overcooked, and really ruined. A slip-up by the kitchen here. I know Chef Juan Santiago Gallego was doing a special event in Cartagena, but his team should have had this… Oh well. Drink was empty, so I took their rec for the third (and last) and it was their local take on the caipirinha…

D3-caipirinha

Not bad, the drinks have been very unique to say the least. Then the next dish again stays with the pirarucu — this time stuffed baby pirarucu cooked in a bijao leaf.

10a-baby pirarucu

Far better than the previous item, but was still somewhat overcooked. I wonder if they had timed things wrong with me as a single diner… In any case, that was the last savoury item as the next item was a digestive…

11-digestive

It’s made of cachaça, camu camu, and lemon. Not bad. Then we start the desserts, first with their take on the chocolate cake…

12d-chocolate cake

Intriguing, as the chocolate is mixed with sacha mani for texture, amongst other things.

12b-chocolate cake

On the side, the ice cream is made from copoasu, which addes to the intrigue, as it has a “fruity chocolate” taste to it. A really excellent dessert! Then as a final item, a bitter chocolate truffle…

13-chocolate truffle

Very tasty, as it has a myriad of additions that we’ve visited throughout the dinner, from copoasu to chuchuhuaza, making it a perfect way to wind this experience down. But it’s not over, as they have an optional item to try…

It’s been controversial from what I’ve read online, but I was game… It’s 2 sets of powders in those turtle figurines…

14-powders

Well, it’s tobacco and coca…and one goes under the tongue, one goes up the nose. Nope, not what you think, it’s the exact opposite. The coca first went under the tongue…and in a weird aerosal thing, they push the tobacco up your nose… It’s not for everyone, it didn’t do much for me, but it was all part of the experience, so…

As I said, this was an experience, an enjoyable one as well. Lots of unique Amazon ingredients, and for the most part (except the overcooked pirarucu dishes) cooked well. The belly was the best dish, as was the chocolate cake dessert. But excellent service is the key here, my server JP was extremely articulate and clear in describing not just the dishes, but the inspiration behind each item. Really an educational evening too, what better way to learn than to enjoy good food and drink?

If you are in Medellín, this place is a must. Be a little adventurous, enjoy the full experience. You’ll regret it if you don’t. Don’t just visit this city for the wrong reasons (such as the idiotic Pablo Escobar tours they keep pushing on you), learn something and have a good evening.

Highly recommended.

La Chagra
Carrera 33 #7a24
Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia

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Review: Plumed Horse

6 August 2018

My stay in the Bay Area was short but extremely busy — both good and bad. Good: excellent dinner at Adega. Bad: more hotel drama. Good: catching up with relatives I’ve not seen for over a decade. Bad: getting stuck in monumentally bad Bay Area traffic. Good: a fabulous dinner at Hachi Ju Hachi with a friend, one with Japanese delicacies comparing well with things in Tokyo — and certainly far, far superior to the disaster at Cocoro in Auckland

But my trip draws to an end as I returned my car and took a Lyft — with baggage in tow — to the Plumed Horse in Saratoga. Dinner at this 1-Michelin eatery was my last meal on this trip, as I go straight to the airport for a disastrous 4-hour red-eye to Atlanta to connect home…

I got there and they stored my bag and I was seated in the odd dining room. Strange music selection, from pop to rap, plus really annoying vari-lights in the room that almost seemed like mood lighting…but it kept changing, which was annoying. You’ll see why soon.

I relaxed, looked over the menu and my martini arrived…ugh, what? Something was afoul here with the lemon twist. This tasted more like if lemon-scented dish soap was poured into the glass… I abandoned it…dreadful… Bad start!

That worried me as the tasting menu started with a wee amuse nibble, a mini trout cannolo. I went with the pairing as I want to pass out on the very short red-eye flight… Soon a bubbly was poured and the first dish arrived, a chilled avocado soup.

01-avocado soup

How California is this… It was indeed refreshing, as it’s a very warm day today. Much needed, and a good start. Then we have the wild prawn…

02-prawn

This was topped by a piece of pata negra, which wasn’t bad at all. Good prawn too, a solid dish here. Things were moving at a very good pace as I did mention to them my time restriction. They seem happy to oblige. I skipped the optional foie course and we move onto the big-eye tuna.

03-tuna

A rather nice dish again, though perhaps not quite as good as the one at Adega the other night. Enjoyed it tho, and the veggies worked really well here. Then another generous pour of a nice rioja and we have the squab.

04-squab

A tasty dish for sure, I do enjoy squab. But made me melancholic, as I remember my pet cockatiel when I was growing up used to love squab… And sorry about the photo. I tried to take one playing the bloody vari-lights but it never went white, so this reddish one was the best I could do. The blue one is just freaky…

So far a pretty good meal, and the pace was good — not like the ridiculous rush of Press Club in Melbourne. And it’s easier when you’re by yourself, and the portion sizes are very modest here. To be honest, a little small… Then a Napa cab is poured for the 50-day aged ribeye…

05-ribeye

First thing, the portion is tiny. But the meat was fantastic, just lovely flavours and texture. The celeriac tot was a nice little surprise. Another excellent, albeit small dish. And that was the savouries! Geez…

After a little, they bring out the buffalo milk mozzarella dish…

06-mozzarella

Nothing too special frankly, not liking this combination and way of serving this dish. The cherries on the pistachio financier was pretty boring. The weakest item of the night. Then finally, the dessert, the peach and white chocolate mousse.

07-chocolate mousse

A pretty good dish, a nice final number. Although honestly I was still hungry…this was exactly the opposite of the lunch at the French Café in Auckland, which was way too voluminous. Sigh…

Then a very, very unpleasant surprise as I waited for my after-dinner drink. The weird music selection over the PA made a turn for the worst and played me and my ex’s song…that just wrecked me… If I was Dr Jeckyll before this, I suddenly turned into Mr Hyde. My mood darkened, my soul died a little…

Drink was delivered, and consumed. Then they rolled a cute chocolate cart showing off the proprietors’ new project…

08a-chocolate cart

We got to choose two, so I did, and ordered a second drink…which never showed up. The whole night service has been lightning fast — until now. Sigh… I don’t need this. Plus the song is still playing in my head, and I need some fresh air. So I settled up, grabbed my luggage, and went outside to wait for my Lyft to take me to SJC.

Overall the food was excellent here, but the portion sizes are pretty lame for the price. But maybe not being too full before a red-eye flight is a good thing, but still…my soul is damaged tonight as I head home…

Plumed Horse
14555 Big Basin Way
Saratoga, California

* Flight was not fun as it was boiling hot. I was upgraded to First Class, but I ended up asking for a “downgrade” mid-flight as it was so hot up front. Needless to say when I got home after the connection I felt like death, and a week later I still wasn’t sleeping correctly…

Review: Adega

4 August 2018

Surprisingly my 12-hour cattle class from Auckland to Los Angeles was pretty smooth. One advantage of being way back in a full flight is that you’re likely the very few people who don’t have someone sitting next to you. We got into LAX into total chaos due to construction, so after all the drama from the long bus ride to messed up passport machines, I was rewarded with a run across the airport to Terminal 1, where my connection is.

I got there, covered in sweat, having re-entered Northern Hemisphere summer and the blazing sun, I see my flight delayed. Oh goody. But eventually a very worn out Mel gets to San Jose and to his hotel. Managed even to catch my breath but I was very hungry, having not eaten since the excellent lunch at Woodpecker Hill in Auckland. So I got a Lyft and headed to dinner.

Tonight my dining destination is the 1-Michelin Portuguese restaurant Adega. I’m surprised that they would have a Portuguese restaurant with such accolades in the West Coast, so let’s see how good and authentic it is. I arrived and they seated me pretty quickly.

I relaxed, having just ordered a cocktail. But first, a crispy and cool gaspacho (yes, I’m using the Portuguese spelling) was offered…

AB1-gaspacho

Delicious, just what I needed on this warm evening. My cocktail arrived and I smiled…this could be a good night…

cocktail

An extra snack really. Then the second amuse arrived…

AB2-sardine pastry

The sardine was nice as you may expect, as was the pastry with morcela. A really nice start! My excellent server, who is from the Azores, gave me time to finish my cocktail before beginning with a pour of a rosé from Douro.

01-Horta do Avô_edited

The “Horta do Avô” — or grandpa’s garden — was a nice salad for sure. The tomatoes and carrots really stand out here, plus a lovely parsley dressing. An excellent start. Then a sparkling rosé is poured and we have the delicias do mar

02-delicias do mar_edited

Oh my, wow…this now reminds me of my last Lisbon trip, and I flashed back to the venerable Cervejaria Ramiro… Loving the percebe especially, but a fabulous plate all around. Despite being knackered I am smiling at this surprisingly good start! Next up, creme de milho

03-creme de milho_edited

A pretty delicious cream of corn soup, deep flavours. Fried corn hair and popcorn on top, but the soup was the star here. Another good dish! This place is so far more than earning its Michelin star in my eyes. Then next up, codorniz piri-piri

04-codorniz piri-piri

Well, this was a little “dumbed down” for local palates I suspect. The quail wasn’t bad, but everything else was very disappointing. Just when I thought this place was pushing for authentic, we get a weak number like this. Sigh, but can’t win them all. Next up, atum

05-atum_edited

A really nice yellowfin tuna dish here, good quality fish. But the roasted veggies in the back was a bit of a mess. In any case, good tuna. Then we move to the last savoury course, carré de borrego.

06-carré de borrego

Honestly the lamb, having been in Australia and New Zealand for 2 weeks, was on the neutral side. I was told the sourcing was specific, but perhaps not to put off folks not used to real lamb. Oh well, understandable, but I wish we had lamb that tasted like lamb. Spoiled by the past fortnight I guess…

Overall not a bad night of savouries, with some very strong dishes especially at the start. We move into the last segment with the pre-dessert of lemon tart…

07-lemon tart

Not bad, but I was getting really tired as all the travelling has caught up to me, and my eyes are starting to shut… Then the final dessert, milfolhas with wild berries…

08-milfolhas_edited

Really nice dish, lovely basil ice cream as well. But I was wiped… I had a late drink and coffee to give me enough energy to head back to my hotel. Had a nice word with Chef Costa just before stepping out to catch a Lyft back to my hotel.

Generally a good night, excellent service. Probably deserves its Michelin star. Some excellent dishes, some weak ones that were more about being “dumbed down” for local consumption rather than weakness of the execution. So overall, a good night, and glad to see the way, way underrated Portuguese cuisine getting a bridgehead here in the South Bay.

Now to get some sleep…

Adega
1614 Alum Rock Avenue
San Jose, California

Review: Woodpecker Hill

4 August 2018

I got up feeling sluggish…the last day before I head back to the US. This last leg here in Auckland has been disappointing to say the least, not helped by last night’s weak dinner at Cazador. Finished packing, and took my time as I managed a late check-out from this mess of a hotel. I then left my bag and took a bus to the busy Parnell area and found my lunch destination, Woodpecker Hill.

Still early on a Saturday so they weren’t busy. I sat at the kitchen counter but my server was absolutely stunning…goodness, another one here in New Zealand… I ordered food and drink and relaxed, a little melancholic to be heading back to the US today despite being trip-weary…

Drink came, a nice cocktail, and I watched the kitchen slowly getting to work. Then my snack arrived, some spiced peanuts.

1-spiced peanuts

Honestly a bit under-spiced (despite the appearance), but good to snack on before my dishes came. A bit of a big bowl, unfortunately no one to share it with. Great drinking snack tho… Then the first item arrived, the mushroom dumplings.

2-mushroom dumplings

Mmm, quite nice, but very filling (and hot!). I wasn’t sure I had the appetite to eat much more after these gigantic things! Then we have the shumai…

3-pork prawn shumai

Oh dear this was excellent. Even better than the one the other day in Dunedin, nearly as good as the crazy awesome ones at The Lucky Belly in Honolulu. I wish I had the appetite to eat more, but I think I’m so knackered I couldn’t eat any more. In fact, I would not have food for at least the next 24 hours…

It’s too bad, as so much of the menu looked good, from the smoked ribeye to the soft-shell crabs. But what was awesome was their special seafood platter. I saw a bunch of them being made, and I wish I had gotten one, even tho they are meant for sharing…oh well…

I know where to go next time I’m in Auckland!

But I stayed to have a few more drinks, enticed by my lovely server. But time flew, and I had to head back — not knowing how bloody long the airport bus would take this time… So I thanked my gorgeous server and headed for the bus back. Grabbed my bag and headed to the airport…

Well, at least the trip ended on a very nice and bright note. All that to fuel me for the 12-hour ride back to the US in cattle class. You just gotta love travelling…

Woodpecker Hill
196 Parnell Road, Parnell
Auckland, New Zealand

Review: Cazador

3 August 2018

After that ambivalent lunch at the French Café, I walked back towards the centre, making a stop at Symonds Street Cemetery for a stroll. That was abandoned after a few minutes when I noticed the ground was extremely saturated, and I nearly slid off a hill that had turned to mud. It’s all those years slipping and sliding in Tallinn that saved me from falling…

But I took a long walk around Auckland, trying not to go up too many steep hills. This way I cleaned my shoes too from the accumulated mud. Then I just wandered back to my hotel, as I needed to deal with some logistics for my trip back to the US tomorrow. And clean my shoes…

Then I headed out to catch a bus to a southern suburb for my dinner tonight at the venerable Cazador. Originally a Persian restaurant, it slowly metamorphosised into a game specialty place — with just a hint of its Persian past in the menu. I got there and it was already busy on this Friday evening, they happily sat me at a corner table.

I relaxed with one of their special cherry brandy apertif, which was a little sweet but not bad. I didn’t go with the tasting tonight as the ala carte looked quite good. I ordered, then they asked if I wanted something to nibble on first, so I went with the nan-e-bakhshi

01-nan

Well, this was a bad move, as this “snack” was bigger than some mains… The cheese toppings made this super heavy, and frankly I was nearly full when I finished this! Just in time for my first course, the venison heart…

02-venison heart

Honestly not as good as I had hoped, very ordinary. Perhaps the sauce really muddied things a little, but it really didn’t impress me. Or was I just too full from the nan, who knows… Another glass of wine, and I sighed when my main course arrived…

03-braised hare

Another huge plate, this time braised hare. And well, it was braised alright, perhaps for a tad too long. This thing was hard as a rock and had very little flavour aside from what went into the braising liquid. If there was some pasta or something starchy this would have worked better. Alas…

I was way too full with these huge portions, and sadly I had to abandon most of this dish. It was so hard and dry it was just not going down anymore. No dessert. And the coffee was awful, so…

Sigh, my last dinner in New Zealand, and it was not a good one. This city is proving to be rather disappointing compared to Dunedin and especially Wellington…

Now for that long bus ride back to the mess of a hotel I’m in…

Cazador
854 Dominion Road, Mount Eden
Auckland, New Zealand

* I ended up across the street from my hotel later that evening for a nitecap, a little yakiniku basement called Tanuki’s Cave. Not bad, but nothing to write home about. I miss Japan…

Review: French Café

3 August 2018

I had a pretty bad sleep from a combination of factors, from last night’s disappointing dinner at Cocoro to this cluster of a hotel here in Auckland. I had a little more time in Auckland, so there was no rush to go exploring early in the morning. Plus I was knackered at this tail end of the trip.

I eventually headed out and explored a bit, then took the bus to my lunch destination, the French Café. A bit of a posh place for a weekday (albeit Friday) lunch, but quite a nice place. They offered the same tasting menu at lunch as dinner, so I thought why not. I needed a good experience to combat last night’s hugely disappointing evening…

Quickly, before more people arrived, they brought out my cocktail — a nice pear concoction. Then we started the amuse segment…

ab

First the croquette was gloriously cheesy and delicious. Then it was followed by the nice mushroom and parsnip pie and the chicken liver parfait cone. Good start. Then the opener was something off the tasting menu I requested as a special. It’s my last day in New Zealand, so…

00-Bluff oysters

Yeah, Bluff oysters. Mmmm, excellent. Perhaps not as good as the other day at Boulcott Street Bistro in Wellington, but still fabulous. I’m gonna miss these… Lovely start, then we move into the tasting menu now with a pour of an assyrtiko from Santorini…

01-salmon

This Mount Cook “alpine salmon” was quite delicious, my server tells me the altitude gives them an excellent flavour. One of the best salmon I’ve had in ages, full of clean flavour, accentuated by the citrus. Really good start, and worked well after the oysters. Good start!

Then not soon after, with a pour of a local white, we have the venison tartar.

02-venison tartar

Lovely smoky aroma, though the dish itself was perhaps too busy. The venison was fabulous, should have been able to stand out on its own without all the busywork. Then a local chardonnay is poured and we have the crayfish carbonara.

03-crayfish carbonara

First of all, the portion of crayfish here is very generous. Second of all, the pasta was not cooked well, mushy. Third of all, it was again too busy — the disease all non-geniune-Italian places have when doing what should be a simple pasta dish. Reminds me of Tipo 00 in Melbourne, which should have known better. The poor texture pattern here made this a weak dish, aside from just picking off the pletiful crayfish…

Anyway, so far not bad, though the early items were far better. The wine pour has been very good, the service excellent overall. Talking about pours, now we have a pinot noir from here in Otago and the quail.

04-quail

Not bad, the quality of the meat wasn’t bad, wrapped in pancetta. But what was somewhat distracting was not just the truffle butter in which this dish was cooked, but the poor truffle included.

I’m sorry, but I really have come to dislike southern hemisphere winter truffles, which Australia especially was pushing everywhere (that began for me in Honolulu at Senia but I hear people talking about it all over the Pacific Rim especially south-east Asia). No thanks. I generally don’t like truffles, but these are by far worse texture-wise.

Anyway, the lunch moves on, and with a nice pour of a French grenache, we have the lamb.

05-lamb

This could have been so much better, as the lamb is of excellent quality. But another dish ruined by sous vide, sadly. Sure, you may get perfect temperature, but it’s the variation of temperature which causes distinct and varied breakdown of the piece of meat that brings out the unique flavours. And again, the winter disease strikes with parsnips…

I guess I’m just getting too grumpy with the trip going so long and nearing an end, but this is one of those meals that could have been so, so much better. But now we’re into the desserts, and first up an apple-based pre-dessert.

06-apple

Delicious actually, but the portion sizes is starting to weigh me down a little — especially for lunch. But a delicious palate-cleansing pre-dessert. Luckily I bypassed the cheese or else I may have collapsed. And finally, an aged chardonnay was poured as a replacement for the paired sweet wine, and we have the lemon curd.

07-lemon curd

Good stuff, a nice closer. I particularly liked the cherries. I looked around and the restaurant was very busy, and the staff was starting to slow down dealing with every table. Took awhile to get my coffee before I managed to settle up. Interestingly, my server was originally from Dresden, so I mentioned my recent trip there.

I thanked her and headed out, needing fresh air and a long walk for this very heavy lunch. Luckily the way back towards the CBD was mostly downhill, so a nice stroll ensued.

Again, this tasting menu could have been so much better for just a few tweeks, and turn it into a very average degustation session to an excellent one. I am just not getting Auckland I guess…

French Café
210 Symonds Street, Eden Terrace
Auckland, New Zealand

Review: Cocoro

2 August 2018

I got into Auckland a bit late…2 flights on Air New Zealand this trip, neither on time. At least the delays were minor. Anyway, the bus from the airport was slow, not helped by rush-hour traffic and an idiotic route in the CBD. Finally got to my hotel over an hour after we left the airport…

And it was a mess, as the hotel was brand new. Friendly staff, but they have a lot of growing pains to deal with. Wifi in my room did not work, but I had no time to do more than just let them know. I had to run out for dinner by cab as I was running so late…

Tonight’s dinner was at Cocoro, supposedly one of the best Japanese places in New Zealand. I got there and they were ready for me, as I had already told them I’d do the tasting menu. I relaxed and they quickly began the course with some lotus root chips as a snack…

01-lotus root chip

Not bad, though a bit under-flavoured. Then we have the kurobuta pork shabu in soy milk…

02-kurobuta soy shabu

Hmmm, yeah… Not sure what to say or think here, but a really weird idea. Too little pork, the base was surprisingly acidic considering it was supposed to be soy milk-centric. At least the bubbly sake was interesting, but it clashed with the base here… Hmmm…

Not sure what to think yet again, but we go on. A far more normal sake was poured, this time from Saga, and we have the sashimi and sushi set…

03a-sashimi sushi

Weird, and why do they hide the best piece?

03b-shimeaji hiramasa

Anyway, the shima-aji (striped jack) and hiramasa (kingfish) were both pretty good…

03c-wasabi

The wasabi was interestingly enough grown locally, and it’s not bad at all…too bad the grinder was just a prop as I wanted more!

03d-chutoro

And the hidden chu-toro was quite nice, though the rice tasted a bit odd…

I added a supplement that was today’s special — kinmedai (golden eye snapper) and saba (mackerel) sashimi that had been straw-seared.

04a-sashimi add

The saba was very ordinary…

04c-saba

…But the kinmedai was excellent. Glad I got it.

04b-kinmedai

Then they took it all away and another sake from Saga is poured for the salmon dish…

05-salmon

This was quite nice, as the Ora king salmon was cured in kombu. The addition of other salmon items, such as the ikura and the cartilage, was a nice touch. One of the best dishes of the night for sure. Things were moving at a good pace but then it went pear-shaped…

My server knocks over the entire huge bottle of sake on my table…what a mess. He quickly changed the tablecloth and wiped it down, but you could still smell it. I don’t mind it, but this would be a mess if it was in Japan… He ends up pouring me a glass of it eventually, as it was a nice sake from Niigata, to go with the next dish.

06-chawanmushi

Chawanmushi, with Hokkaido scallops. Frankly this was way overcooked, and the scallop pieces had the absolute worst texture you can imagine. And it didn’t even add enough flavour to the egg. So much potential in something like this to be done with mediocrity. Oh well… Throw in that spill, this was an unfortunate turning point to the night…

It kept at a good pace tho, and a Nagano sake was poured and we have the snapper dish…

07-snapper

Well, this wasn’t what I thought when I booked this place. This was a bad, bad idea called “Cocoro’s Fish & Chips” on the menu…goodness. This was just awful… The fish was far more chippie stuff than tempura, the batter terrible. The sauce was kind of gross, and then there’s also sunchokes…ugh… I picked off the fish but the rest of the plate was abandoned. This meal is going downhill fast…

I was already weary when a Kyoto-area sake was poured for the lamb course…

z

Surprise, a good one here. Solid quality lamb from the South Island, done pretty well. One of the few good dishes of the night really. Enjoyed that almost as much as the salmon from earlier. At this point I also asked for one of their additions, so that came out — tho not until after some confusion on how I wanted it.

The items in question was nikuzushi — meat sushi from some top quality Kagoshima A5 beef, and I told them do NOT cook it as knowing them it’ll take too long to bring out and will ruin the meat, so bring it out raw. And with a pour of another Saga sake, they came out…

09-A5 nikuzushi

The meat itself was damn good, but everything else was a mess. I’m not a truffle fan, and the texture of these truffles just ruined the fine beef frankly — and added almost no flavour. These truffle were really, really poor quality. And worse, the rice…what is going on? This rice is awful, had the weirdest taste, cooked inconsistently, totally ate into the beef. I ended up separating them in my mouth, swallowing all the rice, and slowly enjoying the rice-less beef…

This kitchen seems so lost…it’s like they are trying WAY too hard, and it’s not working right. Even on something like the nikuzushi there was drama. I so don’t need it, especially at the tail end of a trip. I was waiting for this meal to end at this stage…and then the first dessert…

10a-chestnut soba

Chestnut and soba…hmmm. This wasn’t bad, but by now I was just counting down to getting out of here. Then the final dessert of chocolate ganache…

11-chocolate ganache

Really? I guess the earlier one was the main dessert. Not bad, nice and rich. But at this point I wanted to get out of here, so I asked for the bill and for them to call a taxi for me.

I headed out rather disappointed. This could have been a fabulous meal, but tons of own goals. The crap rice on the nikuzushi, the utterly overcooked chawanmushi, the ridiculous fish-and-chips mess, and so forth. It was a deflating night, to be very honest, and it led me to go seek some booze afterwards…

There are far better options (I think) in Auckland. If you’re not familiar with Japanese cuisine, you may like this. If you are, perhaps this is a bit too much of a doosra to handle…

Cocoro
56a Brown Street, Ponsonby
Auckland, New Zealand

* I ended up at a place called the Gin Room, and it could have been a fabulous evening, but being pushed to a table because of bar stragglers and the server disappearing for over 20 minutes caused me to call it a night this Thursday evening and head back…appropriately, by bus. What is with this town? And of course, the coup de grâce? I was forced to move rooms upon returning due to faulty equipment…what a fucking shit of a end of a day…