Sunday, March 7, 2010

Where to go next date night

Sidart is a newish restaurant in Ponsonby which even a lot of foodies don't yet know about. After my first visit in November I described it in the New Zealand Herald as possibly the greatest meal I've ever eaten. Unaccountably, this plug failed to fill the restaurant's reservations book as I had anticipated so here I am again, having just eaten my second meal there, pleading you to please visit immediately.
Sidart is in Three Lamps Plaza – a little arcade between a chemist and a shoe shop that doesn't look like it should have a five star restaurant at the end of it. But when you get through the opaque sliding door and inside it all makes sense – a dozen or so small tables in a beautifully lit room with a large window looking out over Freeman's Bay toward the Sky Tower and Auckland city.

If you have anyone in your life with an interest in wine please bring them here. Marie, the sommelier and restaurant manager, speaks so passionately about wine that you get a little bit sad every time she leaves the table. My dining buddy MJ was shouting the drinks and therefore did most of the choosing, which meant I could just sit and listen to two people much smarter than me talk excitedly about a subject I'd love to know more about.

As an example, Marie has three different vintages of Te Mata's Coleraine on her list. Why? Because she's running out of 2007, has just got hold of 2008 and had a couple of bottles of 2003 at home that she thought it would be nice to bring in and make available. This is the sort of thing we're dealing with people.

So the food. You can go the full nine course degustation, or order a la carte, or do what we did and get a four course meal for $90. As it happened, we got a surprise fifth course as a sort of generous amuse bouche, so we both did very well.

Ex-Grove chef Sid Sahrawat includes up to ten different flavour experiences (and sometimes several different meats) on the same plate, but maintains balance throughout, and lets each little component of the dish shine on its own too. As you'll see from the photos, the food is full of fancy and miniature flavours, but from a practical standpoint you won't feel like getting a burger on the way home.

Here are some highlights, with photos taken slightly self-consciously by me throughout. To be honest I wonder if some chefs might not thank me for presenting their beautiful creations without lighting on a crappy mobile phone PXT, but I do think it helps give you a sense of the place, so here goes:

Yellow fin tuna, prawn, langoustine powder

Quail w carrot, cardamom, haloumi

Northland eel, spanner crab, cucumber & dashi

Free range pork belly w duck breast, apple, miso

In fact, these are highly shortened versions of the actual titles – each dish has little surprises which aren't revealed until the plate is put in front of you.

It's a ten out of ten menu, and although there may be a couple of other restaurants in the city that offer the same level of experimentation and excellence, they're old names. Sidart is new, and exciting, and I haven't even talked about all the little charming touches that make the service ten out of ten too. If you have any excuse for a special meal with someone in the next few weeks please book in – there were a concerning lack of people dining on the Thursday night I was there, and these wonderful, talented people need enthusiastic mouths to feed.