Restaurant review: Soul Bar & Bistro, Auckland CBD

By Kim Knight

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Address: Viaduct Harbour
Phone: (09) 356 7249
Rating out of 10: Food: 8.5, Service: 7, Value: 8, Ambience: 7

The feijoa dessert at Soul Bar and Bistro. Photo / Doug Sherring
The feijoa dessert at Soul Bar and Bistro. Photo / Doug Sherring

According to the bill, our server's name was Tessa. She should get a gold star. I certainly hope she is paid more than the guy who subbed in to deliver our mains, because when I say "deliver" what I really mean is plonked and ran.

Soul is a restaurant of two halves, from the aforementioned wait staff, to its physical setting. Outdoor tables beg for loud, louche lunch crowds, but the interior's white tablecloths and bright lights feel more like a hotel dining room. Best advice: book early for the seat that suits your mood, and be reassured the food will be great regardless.

The menu is an ode to the ocean. Of the 26 savoury dishes on offer, 16 feature fish or shellfish.

"We've got plenty of Bluff oysters," advised the friendly-but-professional Tessa. Despite a deep desire to have lived in the days when oysters were scoffed 1000 at a time (here's looking at you, Emperor Vitellius) we demurred, without straying too far from the raw end of the entree selection.

A wagyu carpaccio with a merlot syrup was soft and sweet, but I preferred the trevally. The fish that even environmentalists don't mind if you eat in moderation was served in silky slivers, with cubes of tart apple, a tropical cure and slices of jalapeno that gave a gentle kick. Ceviche was everywhere this Auckland summer, but if you haven't tried Soul's take on raw fish, make plans to amend this. (My country pork terrine with its tiny pickled vegetable salad was lovely, but that trevally gave me major food envy).

We were three for dinner. Friends, made more than 25 years ago, when a $5 bottle of red and spag bol was a good night out. We're so grown up now, that one of us wasn't even drinking and we voluntarily ordered vegetables.

Cauliflower fritters might be a Soul classic, but they were too dry for me. I did like the buttered-and-garlicked broccolini, however.

My blackened hapuku arrived with a bang (possibly unintentionally, when that other waiter whacked the side of my wine glass with my plate) and the fish was peppery and moist. Marinated Curious Croppers' tomatoes and an almond skordalia added acid and creaminess, but a sauteed squid accompaniment was more stewed than seared. It read well on the menu, but was, ultimately, unnecessary on the plate.

Across the table, there was praise for the seared yellowfin tuna on a sweet/sour caponata and a delicate crab ravioli (with the pasta cooked all the way to the edges - why is this so hard for some kitchens?) got rave reviews.

My sweet tooth peaks at 3pm on a weekday. Restaurant desserts generally fail to inspire, and by now platters of oysters were wafting past at regular intervals. I was tempted to finish my meal with the beginning of the menu, but the friend from Dunedin said the dessert list was one of the best she'd seen - and that was even before we learned you could choose up to four house-made icecreams or sorbets for just $12.50.

A three-course dinner at Soul is going to dent your wallet. Charging $11 for a side of rocket, balsamic and parmesan (no matter how organic, aged, etc) is a mean thing to do to ladies who lunch. But there are bargains to be had. That icecream selection, for example, and the wine list, which includes eight offerings at $10 or less a glass.

Of course we had pudding. Tonka bean icecream turned out to be an acquired taste; a plum sorbet was sensational. The banana and coconut pie was like a banoffee baklava and best-suited to a very sweet tooth. The fresh feijoa with feijoa elderflower sorbet, vanilla creme, compressed cubes of granny smith apple and two large shards of the crispy bit on top of the pav, was off-the-charts good. It was, hands down, the best dessert I've ever eaten.

Soul is an Auckland institution. "The problem with being consistently great," observed one of my companions, "is you can get taken for granted." This feijoa (and oyster) season, that would be a shame.

The bill: $277.50 for four entrees, two mains, two sides, three desserts, a bottle of wine and a mocktail.
The verdict: When at Soul order the fish -but go for dessert before feijoa season ends.

- Canvas

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