Cibo, Parnell

By Ewan McDonald

Herald rating: * * * * *

They roll out the red carpet at Cibo. Very civilised. Nice man in well-cut suit that doesn't quite disguise time spent in gym - and what he could do if one wasn't very civilised - opens vast doors and ushers us up scarlet Axminster.

Another nice thing about Cibo is that maitre d' Jeremy Turner and chef Kate Fay change the menu more frequently than the seasons, or the seasonings. You can go quite often and find something new, different, inspiring.

It's happening again, for Fay is recently returned from Cambodia, Laos and Bangkok and Turner from New York, and the new entrees-mains menu reflects her trip.

Her report: "The highlight was Siem Reap and the great Angkor Wat. This town has fabulous restaurants and cafes, all very much French-influenced. At the Cambodian Kitchen I had the best sweet and sour pork you could imagine - for $NZ5.25."

Seeking ideas, Fay eats street food rather than at fancy restaurants and hotels. "You get a much better feel for the food and flavours if you eat what the locals eat."

She's a fan of Khmer food: hence her new fish curry with "a huge fragrance of lemongrass and coconut milk," and a red roast chicken breast and prawn chow mein.

From her Laotian excursion she plays another variation on the theme of laab: minced chicken and lettuce rolls, lemongrass broth and crispy quail. "We have put it with a small soup that the chicken has been poached off in." Result: a traditional dish becomes a refined one.

Jude and I dined last week, and her choices reflected travels, too. She's spent time in Turkey and the Med and the grilled haloumi, from the recently expanded vegetarian menu, sank her into nostalgia. Small expressions of joy, too, as each forkful uncovered a new treasure - beetroot confit and oil, potato rosti - until the final pleasure, balsamic figs.

Turkish delight followed: Nelson scallops echoed that theme with tahini dressing, chickpea, aubergine fritters and baba ganoush. You can quibble about the spelling (babaghanoush, baba ghanouj) but you can't argue with the wonderful melange of flavours, textures, aromas. Jude wants to go back for the new menu's venison: sumac-rubbed with sweet pomegranate, eggplant cooked two ways, and feta lemon salad.

My entree was the night's deep-green spinach soup, rich with cepes and truffles, studded with coins of smoked veal sausage. Then john dory, pan-fried with one side of skin left on to trap the juices. It rested on an intriguing bed of bacon, spinach and pinenut "macaroni", the little twirls just lightly cheesed to provide an extra depth of flavour, a suspicion of garlic in a foam.

Turner finessed the wines. Vin Optima gewurtztraminer and Elston chardonnay for Jude's meal, Peregine riesling and its stablemate pinot noir for me.

Fay and Turner collaborated on the dessert menu with ideas from their holidays. Jude: a witty update of a 50s family favourite, raspberry and strawberry sorbet, deconstructed crumbs of shortcake, custard. Mine: what Jude called a "very Mondrian" arrangement, the tang of Valrhona's mandarin chocolate fondant, a splash of cinnamon paint and Indian-spice ice-cream, an orderly mess of mandarin beside.

If you like the sound of this, you'd better book. "We will no doubt change our menu again in early December," warns Fay. Season's greetings, then. Very civilised.

91 St Georges Bay Rd, Parnell
Ph: (09) 303 9660
Open: Dinner Mon-Sat, lunch Mon-Fri
From the menu: Salt-crusted prawns, angel hair pasta, scallop roe foam, pancetta $18; Spiced duck leg confit, duck breast, sweet corn shepherd's pie $34; Walnut and armagnac parfait, sour cherries, Greek meringue $14
Vegetarian: Own menu
Wine: New World's top shelf dominates

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