Address: City Works Depot, 90 Wellesley St, Auckland.
Phone: (09) 309 0304
Rating out of 10: Food: 8, Service: 8, Value: 7, Ambience: 8

Odette's, with its big, neon-like sign beaming out over Wellesley St, is well on its way to becoming an Auckland icon.

This is Clare and Joost van Den Berg's third, and boldest venture into the restaurant business. First was their cafe Zus and Zo on Jervois Rd, followed by Zomer in Takapuna and now this: a grown-up, first-class restaurant that's luring Aucklanders away from Ponsonby Rd and Britomart to sample something different and exciting yet laid-back.

Certainly, on the wet and windy Wednesday night we rolled up, the place was packed to overflowing.

Odette's offers tasting plates at their most elegant and sophisticated. Every preference, from carnivore to vegan, is catered for. Dishes swing from down-home favourites (with a twist) to exotic in a blink.

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The old warehouse has been transformed into a softly lit, glamorous cave that cancels out the stormy weather. Helped by two of the city's coolest creatives, furniture designer Simon James and architect Nat Cheshire, Clare and Joost have fashioned a thoroughly elegant, honest-feeling restaurant studded with comfortable chairs, beautifully crafted wooden tables and a colour scheme of blues, offset by a huge 1950s-style artwork of a tropical oasis.

Because they don't take bookings for groups of fewer than six, we arrived around 6.30pm to be sure of a table and were seated almost immediately. We were welcomed first by Tom, who we assumed was the maitre d', then by Shia. Both turned out to be senior waiters. Both went through the menu with us, with explanations that went on to the point of confusion.

The most important point we took from it all is that Odette's will work with you to ensure you get the right number of tasting portions for the number of people in your group, which was a relief. Elsewhere, all too often we've been left to divide three chicken wings among four (usually with a fork).

We started with drinks all round. But then, as the food arrived, we realised that's what Odette's is all about.

First up was a plate of tiny spinach empanadas. Crisp and crunchy, they were mere morsels, but within minutes our soft-shell crab sliders arrived to take the edge off our appetites. Tasty and tender, the crab was highlighted by a sour cream dressing and pickles that gave the sliders zing without messing with that subtle crab.

Next up were beef cheek firecrackers, with a crisp, pastry shell filled with distinctive, buttery-textured beef cheek that'd been slow-cooked for hours. Even those guests who had to be implored to try it were impressed, possibly because the edge of that meaty taste was fired up by jerk spice and lime aioli.

Our other choice was the silverbeet gnudi, which turned out to be the best thing I've encountered that included silverbeet. Gnudi means nude ravioli (without the pasta) and was made almost entirely from ricotta cheese, salt, fresh herbs and one starring vegetable, in this case silverbeet. It was delicious.

Next to arrive was a heaped tower of tuna carpaccio, helped by lime notes and baked pink snapper wings.

The beef short ribs were okay but disappointingly served off the bone, and the wild mushrooms with whipped Persian feta and donuts made, apparently, from mushroom flour. Extraordinary, but they tasted damn fine.

And so to dessert, which turned up in large individual plates. My meringue with poached fruit was not to my liking: uncooked meringue mix singed on the edges with the blowtorch, served with plums and not enough whipped cream.

On the other hand, the pumpkin brulee garnished with caramelised popcorn was brilliant, and the chocolate crepe was excellent, too - if you like your chocolate bitter.

By the time we left, Odette's was at full throttle, every table was packed. And one of the best things: there's plenty of parking, almost outside the front door.

What we'd do next time: not worry about having to wait for a table as sitting at the bar looks like fun. We'd order more soft-shell crab sliders and silverbeet gnudi.

Our meal: $351.50 for six shared plates, four desserts, plus five glasses and one small carafe of wine and a bottle of sparkling water.

Wine list: Excellent. There's also a cracker cocktail section and plenty of craft beers on offer.

Verdict: Odette's offers fresh surprises to the city restaurant scene and fans are loving it. The decor is elegant and classy, atmosphere lively and fun, and the cuisine is creative and exciting, offering snatches of Mexico, Italy, Australia and South America. Just one niggle: why, after all those sharing plates, do they serve large desserts? Surely this is the one time when all you can manage is a sweet, shared morsel of something truly fabulous rather than a large plateful all to yourself.