Review: Coco, Royal Oak

By Peter Calder

Address: 126 Symonds St, Royal Oak
Phone: Ph (09) 624 5678
Rating: 3/5

Waitress at Coco in Mt Roskill, Auckland.Photo /  Sandra Mu
Waitress at Coco in Mt Roskill, Auckland.Photo / Sandra Mu

He said we could only have a table until 8pm. No problem, I said. But we got delayed so I called and said we'd flag it. No problem, he said. We could stay until 9pm.

So I couldn't understand why, at 8.01pm, somebody was pointedly tapping the bill lying in front of me on the table. It was an undignified end to an otherwise pleasant evening.

The man who rang the next day to apologise for "a staff misunderstanding" may have been doing damage control after seeing the name on the credit-card receipt. But he made an effort, which is lamentably uncommon in the hospitality business.

The Royal Oak roundabout is not a noted foodie destination - though I have had some better-than-decent Indian food in the area and Kairali, a South Indian place a few doors north, is a standout.

But as the house prices in Onehunga creep up, the eating in the area is improving to match.

Coco isn't easy to find. You need to drive south towards Trafalgar St and swing almost immediately right into what looks like a driveway behind the Lucky Horse takeaways to access the top end of Symonds St.

We managed to deduce this only after a couple of exploratory circumnavigations of the roundabout. It reminded me of the many happy hours we had spent in France in the pre-GPS era. I drove and the Professor shouted as we squealed round what they call "ronds points", looking for a sign pointing to somewhere we recognised.

We were welcomed like long-lost friends, which we sort of were by this time, and shown to a table in the handsomely plain dining room - creams and browns and cane chairs - which seats only a couple of dozen.

It was impressively busy for a weeknight; word had plainly got around and we were about to find out why.

The slightly stuttering service from a young waitress was compensated for by her fresh-faced and genuine charm - how often do you encounter waiting staff who actually seem to enjoy what they're doing? - and we got started on some superb bread from that great bakery La Voie Francaise in Dominion Rd, and an exuberantly grassy local olive oil.

The menu offers four-, six- and eight-course degustations ($60 to $120) as well as a la carte options, and you are left to infer from the prices (under $20 and just over $30) what are the entree and main-course equivalents.

These are listed, in the spare modern style, by a single word (squid, beef, pork, duck and so on) though there is enough of a description to allow you to have some handle on what you're in for.

Another reviewer described the food as "modern Vietnamese", which seemed odd to me since many ingredients on the menu (red curry, porcini mushrooms, feijoa) would seem pretty exotic on the Mekong Delta. I hate to use the "F" word - I've said often enough that all food is fusion - but there are sufficient striking juxtapositions (tofu and risotto; haloumi and umeshu, a Japanese liqueur) to make the term useful here. The chefs, two of whom have done time at Merediths Restaurant, are of Vietnamese, Malaysian and Samoan origin and bring a pleasing variety of influences to the table.

We started with squid done two ways, seared and steamed, and accompanied by slices of papaya and a pasty puree of pine nuts.

The flesh was magically tender and the oily nuts and clean fruit taste danced together perfectly. The other entree of beef consisted of cool, Vietnamese summer rolls stuffed with tongue; small doughnut-like beignets filled with oxtail; and carpaccio of seared fillet. These were also outstanding, although the fact that one of the beignets had a cold patch in the middle suggested some rather incompetent microwaving.

My main of duck (seared breast and confit leg) was less striking - duck duo is something of a cliche on menus now - although the contrasting texture of the two meats was impressively accomplished and an accompanying butternut puree worked well; and the Professor's salmon with bok choy was even less remarkable - high-quality pub grub, really.

But a shared dessert of poached peach with passionfruit and coconut touched all the bases.

Coco is still something of a newcomer and is realising its modest intentions, but I'm picking it won't be short of custom.

Verdict: Classy newcomer

- Herald on Sunday

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