Phone: (09) 377 0125
Cuisine: Modern, New Zealand produce
If you think running a restaurant is a risky business, then running a concept restaurant will probably seem downright foolhardy. What happens if the concept, so in vogue one season, dies out the following?
Two years ago when The Foodstore opened as, confusingly I thought at the time, an offshoot of the Sky Digital channel Food TV, our fervour for food television had well and truly reached fever pitch. Even so, I wondered how it would fare long-term.
The idea was that cameras would be trained on the kitchen and prep areas so diners could watch the hustle and bustle of a busy working kitchen, live, on any of the numerous screens mounted on the walls. Not that interesting if you ask me.
But these are clever people. Along with the notion of a fully televised service being laid bare for all to see, they hedged their bets and decided that the menu would have a 100 per cent focus on New Zealand produce. Now that's a winning idea.
Perched on a great corner site in the heart of the Viaduct, which throngs with visitors and leisure seekers, it looks as though the pull of sampling some of our country's best bounty is still proving a recipe for success. And I'd say that's down to head chef Mark Southon's knack for creating food that perfectly matches the surrounds, the clientele and the seasons.
The menu is a dream - light and breezy if you need it to be, hefty and hearty if you're in for something more substantial. The top of it reads "PURE New Zealand Dining" and with West Coast crayfish, Hawkes Bay beef, locally produced buffalo mozzarella, classic fish and chips (served in cute boxes made from folded newspaper), watercress and kumara all being touted in various dishes, it is enough to make us blush with pride.
The crayfish fritter was an imaginative way to try to stretch the luxury crustacean. It was presented beautifully - a large golden round containing chunks of sweet crayfish meat bound in a fluffy egg batter with a smooth preserved lemon mayonnaise. A salad of endive, chives and delicately prepared orange segments gave each mouthful a decent hit of crunch and citrus. Do I think this preparation of the king of crustaceans did it justice?
Not entirely, but it was a decent taster to start with. Another starter, of roasted scampi tails served with cured ham and sweet kumara gnocchi, was stunning. The musky parsnip puree brought all the flavours together.
An unusual but refreshing gesture at The Foodstore is that almost all dishes are offered as starters and mains, the starter merely being a reduced portion. It's a great idea that we both took advantage of in the interests of being both fiscally and calorifically responsible. How the kitchen managed to keep the thick slab of chicken breast so moist and juicy, yet the skinless outer crispy was a miracle. Set on a bed of very wet and creamy polenta and leeks, which could have been softer, this was comfort food but with a welcome light touch. A fillet of snapper, pan-fried and served on a cauliflower puree was also delicate, elegant and well thought out with cured ham, from Auckland delicatessen Salash, planting a note of saltiness and cubes of roasted kumara adding sweetness.
Settling for small portions for the savoury courses paid off - we had plenty of room for desserts. A chocolate fondant bowled us over with its intense, bittersweet taste and molten liquid centre. It was served with an icecream that drew its inspiration from the Kiwi classic, the jelly tip, but it was missing the two key elements - the crisp chocolate shell and jelly that is soft and gooey - to truly make it work. A butterscotch panna cotta wobbled wonderfully, was silky and creamy and the thick butterscotch sauce and hokey pokey crumble added texture and big flavours to finish on.
As I looked around The Foodstore's full dining room and tables set outside overlooking the sparkling waters of the Viaduct Basin, I observed that no one seemed to care about the moving feast on the multiple TV screens anymore. I'm not surprised. Southon's food is so good it grabs all the attention.
From the menu: West Coast crayfish fritter $28, scampi tails $16, market fish (snapper) $21, roast free-range chicken $21, sides: onion rings and potato salad $9 each, butterscotch panna cotta $16, chocolate fondant with "jelly tip" $16.
Drinks: Fully licensed