Polenta with miso. Duck breast with matcha rice. Beetroot with salted yolk. A'meza bills itself as pan-Asian, but one glance at the menu and it's clear this is no ordinary Dominion Rd cheap and cheerful.
For starters (literally) the dishes are works of art. House-baked pandesal is served in a pale wooden box with a quenelle of milk curd (think cream cheese meets butter) and a sprinkle of lavender salt. The bread, slightly sweet and enriched with egg, is a Filipino breakfast staple. Having it for dinner is a terrific introduction to the heritage of this restaurant's chefs and owners, Wilfred Laysico and Leah Escondo.
Juxtapositions are a key feature of Filipino cuisine. A'meza casts its culinary net across wider Asia (minus the pork), but contrast and counterpoint is present across the menu. Don't leave without ordering the pandan parfait, burnt honey icecream and intensely citrus calamansi gel ($14). Sweet-smoky-sour deliciousness.
Begin, however, with that bread, a glass of very reasonably priced wine and the prawn beignet - deep-fried choux pastry morsels, cut with an almost lemony flavoured coriander and tomato chutney ($10). Add an order of deep-fried smoked cod with cauliflower and chipotle mayo ($8) for a snackable, easy start to a menu that gets more interesting with each course.
Consider the "Purple Kumara" - prawns and coriander in a soup that glows with a Tinky Winky Teletubby hue visible two tables away. "Beetroot" ($16) is edible abstract expressionism - stacks of the standard stuff cemented with creamy curd, slices of the hot-right-now candy-stripe beet, salted yolk blobs and splattered pink dressing.
And so it continued. A thin twist of rare seared beef fillet ($18) came with pea shoots and lettuce leaf that said spring, but the addition of oxtail and parmesan gave a savoury, meaty weight. In the company of cheese, sticky bulgogi dressing had an almost balsamic effect.
A'meza offers clever cooking with unusual combinations. Frankly it deserves more customers. On a Thursday night, I counted just four other groups in the space that used to be a Columbus Coffee shop. The main room is cavernous, but the street-side atrium area would be great for a group. They've also nailed the service, which, bar some timing issues around the main course, was faultless.
There are just four large plates on offer ($27-$35) and if the rest of the menu sounds too scary, go for the beef cheek - slow-cooked and completely within the average meat-eater's comfort zone. The fish sits on top of an inspired laksa risotto (all the flavour you want, plus body) and an extra beignet.
There is a bit of this sort of recycling. The beef main includes an oxtail cannelloni that is also available separately as (surprise!) an oxtail cannelloni ($8). The most interesting dish could have been the duck, with its confit leg meat encased in matcha rice, and sliced breast alongside. Unfortunately, a sambal accompaniment completely overpowered it. Coriander gnocchi lacked coriander flavour, but bonus points for trying something different.
Not everything at A'Meza is perfect, but if you're ready to go beyond dumplings, then this Dominion Rd newcomer is worth a go.