Review: Cocoro, Ponsonby

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Address: 56 Brown Street, Ponsonby
Phone: (09) 360 0927
Rating out of 10:Food: 8, Service: 8, Value: 7, Ambience: 8

Salmon served in a scooped-out persimmon shell at Cocoro. Photo / Dean Purcell
Salmon served in a scooped-out persimmon shell at Cocoro. Photo / Dean Purcell

This was my first visit to Cocoro at night, and stepping into that large elegant room was a delight. There was an amazing flower arrangement in the middle of the long centre table, dozens of white tablecloths, comfortable black banquettes to sit on and a team of super-efficient waiters at the ready.

Already we'd been were impressed by Cocoro's professionalism. After booking the $85 degustation menu, I received two calls to check our dietary requirements. The first to ask if we had any allergies - two of us were indeed dairy-free - and the second to make certain we could tolerate eggs, which we could.

Our eight-course dinner started small, with a tiny piece of cured salmon garnished with fat, orange salmon eggs, which burst like salty bubbles on the tongue. This was offset with sweet, soft mango and seaweed, and the whole thing was served in a beautiful scooped-out persimmon shell. Next came a mysterious black-lacquered box that unfolded into a two-storeyed selection of raw fish with local wasabi, served on its own grater. For surprise and thrill you can't get much better than this.

Then came the deep-fried chicken, which was cooked perfectly - crisp on the outside, moist and delicate on the inside - followed by a fascinating mix of whitebait and scallops.

Our wine was good, too, although looking back we should have requested a taste before ordering a bottle, even though our waiter declared, "If you don't like it I'll drink it myself!" Actually the bottle of riesling was not to the taste of the men, who quickly moved on to chardonnay - and, for Eugene, a glass of sake, worth ordering just for the ceremonial way it was presented.

Meanwhile the food just got better - and bigger. By the time we had finished every morsel of our tempura-coated hapuku, which came with decent helpings of spinach and seaweed, all of us were starting to feel as though we'd eaten well.

But no, yet another beautiful Japanese waiter arrived with our main course, the confit duck leg. In my experience confit means the duck has been cooked twice: first long and slow, then quick and hot to brown and crisp that delicious fatty duck skin. However, this Japanese version, while satisfyingly crunchy on top, was actually rare within. Indeed, our waiter warned us the special knife that came with it was dangerously sharp. In the end, although it tasted quite different from the french-style duck I ate a week ago, it was quite brilliant. This night it was paired with a smooth and sweetish aubergine puree and more seaweed, which turned that lonely leg into a delightful climax to what had been an astonishing meal.

There was then a break, giving us time to visit the elegant loos, which reminded us of a little Japanese garden. The washrooms were perfectly appointed (paper towels, decent handwash, perfumed air freshener) and were spotlessly clean.

Then it was time for dessert. We realised again what all the commotion was about. While the dairy eaters were served with a creamy green tea icecream, the non-dairy couple scored an icy sweet sorbet. The refreshing icy taste of mango was perfect after our ever-richer meal.

Then, just when we thought it was all over, came the piece de resistance: a plate of cape gooseberries. Once again, with Cocoro's unerring attention to detail, drama and beauty, the papery leaves that housed the gooseberries had been bent back, each berry dipped in thick Valrhona chocolate.

Dare I say it, even better than the sorbet.

Our meal: $441 for four eight-course degustation dinners, a bottle of Domaine Rd riesling, four glasses of chardonnay and a silky sake.

Wine list: Long and poetic but could do with more wines available by the glass. And, something I forgot until too late - Japanese food tastes even better with a Japanese beer.

Verdict: This is sophisticated, high-end Japanese dining with not a bowl of miso soup to be seen. The attention to detail, from the opening entree boxes to the scooped out persimmon serving bowls and delicate chocolate-dipped dipped cape gooseberries, is breathtaking in this age of automation. And they certainly take great care of any dietary needs.

- NZ Herald

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