Restaurant review: Adam Arnold, Ponsonby

By Peter Calder

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Address: 171 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby
Phone: 020 408 48725
Online: adamarnold.co.nz

Brad, left, and Tobias at Adam Arnold. Photo / Getty Images
Brad, left, and Tobias at Adam Arnold. Photo / Getty Images

This newish arrival on the Ponsonby strip employs the middle names of its proprietors, Tobias Ward and Brad Roebuck. Partners in life and in business, they deploy their flamboyant aesthetic inclinations in a fitout that is far too fabulous to be called garish: gold mirror-ball light fittings; greenery overhead; a marble bar; a wall of what looks like pressed tin (a nod perhaps to the old ceilings of the neighbourhood villas). It's upbeat and lovely, though the visual impression makes it seem colder than it probably is.

Adam Arnold, 171 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby. Photo / Getty
Adam Arnold, 171 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby. Photo / Getty

Oddly, they've made about half the tables leaners, with high stools (more oddly, they directed our trio, whose combined ages nudge 200, towards one of them). For a place that's more eatery than bar, it's an odd decision that conspires against a welcoming feel.

The boys' backgrounds in hospo are broader than they are deep, it's fair to say but they work the floor themselves and plainly love it. Ward, who kept apologising for his Yorkshire accent, is the kind of guy who gives a rundown of the componentry of a dish when he places it before you.

But he's not doing that naff, slightly snobbish thing they do at fine-dining places, using words you never heard before for things that you know well (a hash brown might be a "pomme de terre gateau", for example); rather, he's communicating his excitement about what's coming up and he doesn't want you to miss any of it.

Whether chef Keith Carlo, who goes by the name Carlos, is delivering food that lives up to that sense of excitement is a moot point. The aim is for tastes like the clean, bright look, avoiding oils and frying, and some dishes stun by being so delightfully ordinary: a faintly Nordic take on mushy peas, which half mashes them with mint, creme fraiche and feta, sounds boring, but it's sensational; likewise, a buttery potato salad with cream cheese and big parings of leafy fennel root was wonderfully moreish.

Tubes of squid, plumply stuffed with chorizo, are something of a culinary cliche now and, in my view, always were a bad combination: even a mild chorizo blasts the squid flavour off the plate. Still, the red pepper puree and tiny, juicy olives it came with added up to a pan-Med pleasure.

Pork loin with lemongrass glaze, coffee soil & apple, prune, walnut salad. Photo / Michael Craig
Pork loin with lemongrass glaze, coffee soil & apple, prune, walnut salad. Photo / Michael Craig

A small pork loin was distressingly dry, though the fruity adornments (prune, apple) worked well. Much more successful was a slice of hoki, a much underrated fish, with two sauces - a cauliflower puree musty with truffle and a simple beurre blanc - that was first-rate.

They make much of chef Carlos' CV as a pastry chef in luxury hotels in the desserts (there's one each night, in a serving for two), though my sweet-tooth specialist, the Professor, shared my view that our one - apple poached in shiraz, scattered with vanilla crumble and topped by chocolate mousse - was routine rather than outstanding. And that's what the restaurant is, really: there are flashes of the unexpected but the entire experience is only good.

Dishes $10-$28; dessert (for two) $18
Verdict: Fabulous look let down by hit or miss food

- Spy.co.nz

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