He sold me on the mussels as follows: "It's something that everyone's familiar with and it's a good thing to cook at the bach or the beach. Just a simple summer thing, with some crusty bread and a few beers and away you go."
It was a deceptively brilliant sales pitch: the pure nostalgia-inducement of the words "beach", "bach" and "summer" in such close proximity; the good Kiwi humility of "simple" and "familiar", which plays particularly well when juxtaposed with Carl Koppenhagen's significant reputation; the visceral pleasures evoked by the words "crusty bread" and "a few beers". Is there any more powerful way for a New Zealand man to finish a sentence than with "away you go"? No, there isn't.
It was an early lunch, so I had to decline the beers, and we were at Koppenhagen's restaurant The Engine Room instead of the beach, but we sat in a sunny part of the room, at the bar, and Northcote Point is quite close to the water, so I could imagine it.
Into a very hot pan, Koppenhagen thrust a generous amount of olive oil, onions, garlic and red chilli flakes. After a brief pause, he introduced a really large amount of pinot grigio, some basil, Italian parsley and cherry tomatoes.
He grilled some ciabatta and rubbed raw garlic across its toasted surface, telling me that it would be the best garlic bread I had ever tasted. As I watched him slug it with olive oil and rain salt down upon it with righteous fury, I knew he spoke the truth.
Maybe I was seduced by Koppenhagen's reputation or by his sales pitch, because Lord knows I've eaten more than my share of seafood lately, but there was something enchanting about sitting at that bar, cracking open those mussels, spooning them through the brothy bowl and chasing that with the best garlic bread I'd ever tasted.
It has been a trope of chefs in this series, and of chefs in general, of late, to crap on about simple, fresh ingredients that are allowed to speak for themselves and possibly also of the bounteous earth from which they spring.
It's all getting a bit boring, and it's a suspiciously convenient excuse for them to not have to try too hard.
Nevertheless, as Koppenhagen and I sat there in the late morning sun of the North Shore, scooping out the mussel meat and dipping bread into the herbaceous, wine-dark broth, discussing the building of the Sky Path over the harbour bridge and The Engine Room's plans to open for long Sunday lunches, I fantasised about the day when I will be able to cycle from the CBD to The Engine Room in just a few minutes, on a late summer Sunday, order up a big bowl of this sort of simple delight, along with some crusty bread and a few beers, sit for a couple of hours, wonder briefly how I'm going to get home, half cut, on a bike, and then, having not yet reached a conclusion, find myself ordering another round.
Recipe: Carl Koppenhagen's mussel dish
1 kg NZ green-lipped mussels
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Small pinch dried chilli flakes
2 shallots finely sliced
1 cup pinot grigio or any white wine
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
Sea salt and ground black pepper
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 slices of ciabatta bread
Heat a large heavy-based pot. Add shallots, oil and garlic, slowly sweat until shallots are soft.
Add mussels, chilli, tomatoes, wine, salt, pepper, half the basil and parsley. Place on lid and wait.
Keep shaking the pot and checking to see if the mussels are opening.
Grill or toast the bread then rub with a cut garlic clove and drizzle with more extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt.
As soon as the mussels are open, serve in bowls with garlic bread and more herbs on top!