Restaurant review: Adam Arnold, Ponsonby

By Kim Knight

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Address: 171 Ponsonby Rd
Phone: 020 408 48725
Cost: Our table of two spent $132.
Rating out of 10: Food: 8.5 Service: 8 Value: 9 Ambience: 8.5

Adam Arnold restaurant, 171 Ponsonby Rd. Photo / Getty Images
Adam Arnold restaurant, 171 Ponsonby Rd. Photo / Getty Images

It was freezing outside and I'd had two large wines before I arrived. I was late. Face flushed, wildly checking messages.

His text said he was at the restaurant. I was the only person in the restaurant. Were there more seats? Outside? Upstairs? Waitperson One was calm and soothing: "I'm sure he'll be here soon ... "

Dawning humility as I read the situation through her eyes. How many jilted parties does the Auckland hospitality scene tend to on any given Friday? My date (the same one I've been living with for five years) finally arrived. I considered overplaying the familiarity card and ordering for him, but Waitperson Two was a step ahead: "I really recommend the pea and mint smash."

Adam Arnold has a "no freezers, no fryers" policy so I'm assuming, midwinter, those peas ($10) weren't freshly podded. They were still really good, sharpened with feta and enriched with a dollop of thick creme fraiche. They would have been extra good with a bit of bread, but aside from sliders ($14.50), the menu was bereft.

Carbs were in very short supply. We only ordered the peas because they were out of potatoes (who runs out of potatoes?) and thus, the ridiculously decadent sounding potato and fennel salad with cream cheese ($15) was off the menu.

It is a very nice menu, but it is best read on-site. Online, you might be distracted by the restaurant's shocking proclamation that sharing food leads to "a more personalised, if unorthodox, method of restaurant dining". As anyone who has eaten out this century will attest, Adam Arnold didn't invent the shared plate. However, it does produce food you'll want the rest of your table to try.

We started with chorizo stuffed squid. Five super tender baby hoods, packed with salty, smoky meat on a pool of bright capsicum sauce. A classic flavour combo delivered with a sure hand and excellent value at $20.

The restaurant (white marble, pressed tin walls, gold lights) was, by now, starting to fill up. A large table had pre-booked; walk-ins were directed to stools and a banquette. Good. I want this place to do well, because I want to return, repeatedly, for the best fish I've had this year.

According to Waitperson Two, it was the first night the chef had let a younger protege go solo. He excelled. A slab of kingfish was opaque but not dense, cooked but only just, luxed up with a creamy truffled cauliflower puree and cut with lemon beurre blanc - and it was only $22.

Pork loin ($26) was a picture on a plate. These larger dishes are classified as platters but they're a cut above the usual "slab of this, dollop of that". The lean meat was slightly dry on the edges, but its accompanying flavours - lemongrass, coffee, apple, prune and walnut - lifted it from the doldrums.

The menu advises that pastry is chef Carlos' passion and every day he builds, from scratch, something different. The night we visited it was squishy Japanese moshi cakes, with chunks of red velvet cake, blobs of chocolate ganache and freeze-dried berries. Fresh boysenberries (no potatoes, but they can get fresh berries?!) pushed the whole thing to next level good. The $18 dessert platter is built to share and Adam Arnold is highly recommended for your next dinner a deux.

- Canvas

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