Industry Zen, Auckland CBD

By Peter Calder

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Herald on Sunday rating: 4/5
Address: 104d Customs Street West
Phone: (09) 307 0936
Open: Daily noon to 11pm

Industry Zen is oddly named but cool. Photo / Janna Dixon
Industry Zen is oddly named but cool. Photo / Janna Dixon

The things I do for you. A week in Paris last month involved grilled pigs' trotters (the waitress anxiously warned me they were "specialised" though I would have thought they were better described as being full of annoying bones); a heavenly steak tartare, the raw beef creamed with capers and egg yolk; and andouillettes, the coarse-grained sausages filled with chopped pig-innards that are the stuff of a vegetarian's nightmare.

The upshot was that I narrowly escaped being hit with excess-baggage charges for my belly on the way back and I'm being mistaken for the Michelin man.

This kilogram crisis explains why I was drawn to this newly opened Japanese place tucked down the quiet end of Customs St, around the corner from the Tepid Baths where most people don't even know it's still Customs St. Japanese food, after all, has plenty of options for the circumferentially challenged.

The oddly named eatery derives from the transplantation of Cafe Rikka which had to shut up shop at Victoria Park when redevelopment started there.

Indeed, Rikka's name is still on the menu. But as the name suggests, it has an identity all its own.

The word "industry" may refer to the fitout - the view when you look up is all concrete and ducting - but could just as easily be applied to the conscientiousness with which the staff, both backroom and front of house, approach their work.

The "zen" is easier to understand: as is common with Japanese food, the dishes here are as much an aesthetic as a gastronomic experience and conducive to the contemplation that aids good digestion.

The menu, which warns you not to expect the ordinary, is nothing if not comprehensive and gives a fresh inflection to the standard Japanese bill of fare.

Thus the list of sushi and sashimi is amplified by a selection of "wraps" - the outer skin is seaweed, not pita; and the teppanyaki (hot-plate) and yakitori (flame grill) dishes are supplemented by the top-of-the-range robata grill which uses the special oak charcoal called bincho-tan.

In between is a wealth of choice all under the heading "tapas", a term whose migration from Spanish to other cuisines now seems global.

We chose widely, washing our food down with the cheap and cheerful house sake - there's a more-than-adequate wine list and beer by the gallon but hot sake goes best with Japanese food, I reckon.

The most expensive sashimi dish at $32 seemed sparse for the price but the variety and glistening freshness of the fish was exceptional. The crumbed oysters ($9 for three), fried medium-rare, were plump and delicious and there were other tempting surprises such as lotus root, sliced and fried like potato crisps, and prawn shu mai, a Japanese variant on the yum cha standard which was greaselessly juicy and subtly fragrant.

Of the barbecued options I preferred the lamb rack - two large and very moist cutlets - to the kingfish, which was a shade overdone. Some green tea icecream (much better than it sounds) made for a perfect finale.

Japanese restaurants are two a yen these days, and it takes something special to stand out.

I'm not sure that the food at Industry Zen was quite the revelation delivered by Gion in Parnell, but the atmosphere, which includes a dramatic formal curtain call by the kitchen staff makes it a cool destination and a charming experience.

Go soon. But book. We went on a Monday and it was packed.

$135 for two
Sashimi: $32
Dishes (8): $6-$13

Ambience: True to its name
Vegetarians: Marked choices
Watch out for: The chefs' curtain call
Bottom line: Neo-Japanese

- NZ Herald

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