Address: 462 New North Rd, Kingsland
Ph: (09) 849 4448
Whaddaya know? A new restaurant with a functioning website. So many people spend a quadzillion dollars outfitting, staffing and provisioning a restaurant without paying some geek to organise an online presence. The best they do is nab the domain and put "coming soon" on it; "Not coming yet, then," I feel like replying.
Diners like to look at a menu before deciding where to eat; restaurants want to alert diners to their existence, maybe attract them. Are these two dots hard to join?
It gets better. Loop's website is actively maintained. At the time I booked, the phone number was a secret and there was some dodgy French spelling, but both matters were sorted by the time I finished writing this.
Setting up shop in the premises formerly known as pan-Med comfort food joint Arthur Avenue are Hailey and Craig Rodger (he's the chef) and Hailey's brother Elliot Boock (the brother and sister are a new generation of the distinguished Dunedin Boock clan).
Craig, a Scot, evidently admires bad-boy celebrity chef Marco Pierre White, a giant portrait of whom, ciggie dangling from surly lips, looms above the kitchen. It's one of several playful and engaging works by artists Tyrone Layne (Kim Dotcom outside a K Rd strip club) and Alexander Bartleet that adorn the space, which is fashionably spare, though it could do with some visual warm-up as winter comes on.
I've never eaten White's food so I don't know whether Rodger seeks to emulate him, but I will say that he makes damn good tucker that combines heart with smart. Of the dishes we tried, nothing seemed familiar and several of the untried ones (pulled pork in the terrine; beetroot in the chocolate tart) urged a return visit.
Having put paid to a satisfying amuse-bouche (a doughy beignet of olive and basil on a tomato salsa), we turned to the concise menu (four entrees, five mains, four desserts). I was attracted to a salmon dish described as a Waldorf because the word brought back such happy memories of the Fawlty Towers episode in which a belligerent American demanded a Waldorf Salad ("I think we're just out of Waldorfs," Basil whimpered).
Rodger was not persuaded by the script's ingredients ("apples, celery, walnuts, grapes!") to include the grapes, which is just as well since they are not in the original recipe. Instead, he built around four thick, meaty slabs of cured and seared salmon a lovely assortment of tastes inspired by the famous salad.
Celery and apple were in the form of dabs of jelly which worked superbly with the oily fish. Tiny endive leaves provided another tangy reference point and the smoothness of some avocado mousse and commendably fresh walnuts played off that. It was a restrained bistro dish of simple flair.
Across the table, the Professor was impressed by a goat-cheese souffle, which came from the decent-feed school of cookery and was excellently airy.
As a salute to the approach of winter - it was the first chill evening of the season - I ordered the daube of beef, a stew of Provencal origin made using beef cheeks. My bill, though not the menu, mentioned a 24-hour cooking time, which I find easy to believe since I could literally chew the meat using only my tongue and the roof of my mouth. It was sensationally rich and aromatic and the accompaniments - a puree of butternut enlivened with ginger and a pile of greens including warm shavings of cucumber - were original and apt.
The Professor, who seems to have parked her vego-or-fish-at-a-pinch limitations, was attracted to the lamb rump despite its slightly off-putting billing as "oil-poached": it was done to perfection and set off well by thickened yoghurt with faintly mustardy overtones, beetroot and aubergine. A side of vegetables swam in butter, which is a good thing, no matter what my doctor says.
Desserts were slightly problematic. I cared not at all for a coconut panna cotta on a base of a roast mango gel, one or both of which had a sourness that put me in mind of an industrial solvent, and the "reworkings" of bread-and-butter pudding looked and tasted mightily like a dry and stodgy brioche to me. But the passionfruit icecream was an epoch-maker.
In all, this is a nice little neighbourhood bistro with good prices (mains $25-$30) and I suspect we'll be back soon.