Phone: 09 3600 927
Rating out of 10: Food: 9, Service: 9, Value: 7, Ambience: 8
As every restaurant owner knows, eating out is a subjective business. You can have great food, cool premises with an elegant fit-out and good service. But if the customers are in the wrong mood then pleasing them can be a struggle.
On our visit to Cocoro the odds were against the place. We had had a typically wearying battle with Auckland traffic backed up endlessly by what the overhead signs described as "an incident" many kilometres away. The setting sun was dazzling and parking in Ponsonby on a Friday evening is not an experience to deliver joy. There were many words to describe my state of mind on arrival but carefree and relaxed were not among them.
Things started to look up with the calm courtesy of our welcome and the arrival of hot towels. Cocoro is a lively establishment with its shared large central table encircled by smaller settings but it adroitly manages to combine being busy with an atmosphere that spreads serenity.
We opted to eliminate the stress of decision-making by choosing the degustation option and were glad we had. The menu provided a structured progress through the courses, with each option providing a visual and flavour frisson.
In the recent issue of Canvas devoted to food, the globally travelled Anthony Bourdain chose Japanese cuisine as his preference and I am coming round to deferring to his wisdom. The attention to detail, the technical skill, the eye appeal and the respect for the best ingredients that distinguish top-level Japanese food are a combination hard to beat.
Cocoro is one such high-level operator justifying the applause it has attracted over the years.
To describe in detail each of our seven courses would take rather more space than we have here, not to mention being a tiresome read. But this will give you the idea. The yakimono was, according to the menu, charcoal-finished Cambridge duck leg confit with aubergine puree, wok Asian vegetables, wasabi flavoured choy sam, manuka honey and dark rice vinegar infused teriyaki sauce and dusted with kawakawa, horopito and shichimi spices. A visit to their excellent website can provide those interested with the full intricacies of the rest of our meal.
That's all very well, you may ask, but how does all that taste? "Absolutely delicious" was my cliched but heartfelt response to the appetiser that marked the start of my journey from frazzled to benign. This was characteristic of the whole meal; beautifully presented in a black box which unfolded to reveal pickled ginger, wasabi, sashimi and a magnificent oyster with a yazu sauce embellished with foam and a touch of salmon roe.
The next course was a melting salmon confit of entrancing texture and flavour slightly unexpectedly accompanied by a variant of a classic Hollandaise sauce. This was possibly the stand-out dish - unless it was the delightful egg custard surrounding just enough whitebait to deliver the uniquely delicate flavour of that New Zealand favourite. Then there was the witty if rather twee "fish and chips" of snapper in tempura batter with a sliver of fried agria potato resting on a little potato puree. And so it went on, with the only comment that wasn't unqualified praise directed at the duck which, while tasty, was distinctly tough as if those Cambridge birds had been doing a lot of paddling around the pond.
The green tea cheese cake with ice cream and strawberries provided a fairly conventional but appealing exit to a meal rounded out by three flavour packed cubes of varying chocolate ganache.
The accomplished service which had greeted us continued at that level throughout the meal even if I didn't always catch every detail of the comprehensive dish descriptions. If a test of a good restaurant is to transform a bear with a sore head into someone who thinks all is for the best in the best of all worlds, Cocoro passed with style and ease.
Our meal: $237.50 for two degustation menus courses, one beer and three glasses of wine.
Wine list: A good range with some novelties, Japanese beers and a mammoth sake list.
Verdict: Style and substance in a venue that combines calm and a busy atmosphere and just as appropriate for a couple or a large party.