Friday, September 23, 2011

Metro review - Ebisu

The following review of mine appeared in Metro, May 2011. You can read my review of Simon Gault's new restaurant Fish in the latest issue, out Monday 26 September.

Ebisu calls itself an izakaya-style restaurant, although if you’re familiar enough with Japanese social habits to know the word refers to after-work haunts where the focus is on drinking rather than eating, you’ll also work out pretty quickly that it doesn’t apply here. But who cares? The food is fantastic, “izakaya” looks good on press releases, and the drinks list is exciting enough that you probably could just drop in for some sake with food on the side, although the staff may look at you a bit funny.

“Can we just order as we go, like a real izakaya?” I asked our server early on.

“Um, I suppose. If you want to do it like that…” he replied uncertainly, like I’d asked him to stand on a chair and lob edamame beans into my open mouth.

It was a bit like that with him all night, although we’d occasionally get a little teaser of somebody else to remind us what we were missing.

“I turned down eight bottles of nigori from our supplier before I chose this one,” said the manager as she poured a milky sake into my cup. “But I’m sure your waiter has told you all about it.”
What he’d actually said about two minutes earlier was: “Some people don’t like this unfiltered one because it’s unfiltered. But… that’s unfiltered for you!”

But to the good stuff. It’s a great space, one of the several new barstaurants bringing life to the Britomart precinct. Big glass windows, high ceilings, a beautiful bar and a buzzy, partly visible kitchen make it worth the effort coming into town.

The food is spectacularly good, especially the small dishes — from super-thin slices of rare-beef tataki, to rich, skewered scallops topped with dark, meaty shitake mushrooms, to deconstructed pork buns wedged with sticky chunks of sweet barbecued belly. Rainbow maki is flawless and as beautiful as I’ve ever seen sushi — avocado and salmon wrapped tight in rice and layered again with alternating colours of fish, served with pink roe and squirts of mayo. You get mayo with the karaage chicken too, but you hardly need it as the meat is so moist and tasty.

Large plates are pretty good too, but not as good as the small ones. And desserts are more interesting than crave-able — mostly ice creams in different flavours and textures, including a vanilla miso scoop that bordered on savoury.

You’ll love Ebisu, particularly if you don’t look too hard for Japanese authenticity outside of the food. But authentic or not, what a great restaurant to have in downtown Auckland. With all these new openings, Party Central’s looking less like a stupid idea every week.