Cibo, Parnell

By Ewan McDonald

By EWAN McDONALD for viva

Memo to: editor

From: restaurant reviewer

Subject: rating system

Oh, it can be hard when you've got only five stars to give when you go out, eat, and have a damn-near religious experience.

Last week we went to Cibo. Yes, I know, we've been there before - you have, too, it's one of Viva's favourite restaurants. We went because it's been a year since we last reviewed it and we wanted to see if there'd been any changes since the recent re-arrangement of ownership.

You might have heard that the general manager and maitre d' of eight years, Jeremy Turner, has taken a larger share and one of the three previous owners has dropped off the paperwork (a diminished third?), for reasons that may have something to do with matters discussed elsewhere in this newspaper. You might very well think that. I couldn't possibly comment.

Perhaps it isn't, but the room felt brighter, more colourful, more airy. Maybe it was because the outrageous possum-fur drapes were furled. The Four Tops were buzzing and the place was humming (is that the right way around?).

Since you are of a refined nature, Editor, I should warn that on a Friday night, the proximity of the bar means that diners may be subject to the laddish - of all genders - behaviour of Parnell society.

Outside, the lilies were waving in the pool and it was almost warm enough to consider eating on the terrace.

You are getting the picture so I guess we should get to the food bits. Kate Fay has been the chef at Cibo for, what, eight years now? On their website they say she is "indomitable". She's not. Winston Churchill was indomitable. Fay is an artist, an adventurer, a genius in the kitchen.

She has an unparalleled ability to seek out wonderful ingredients. I asked the waiter why the menu said "Confit of murrellen pork loin with satay noodles and cucumber dipping sauce, what's murrellen?" and he said, "That's the name of the farm that it comes from."

And when you taste those little slices of pork, they are sweet and soft and not at all chewy, because the animal has been reared on real grass, outside, and well fed with milk. The noodles and the sauce set it off, no flavour fights with another.

Peppered spiced venison with beetroot confit, horseradish cream and chestnut jus is pretty darned ... well, indomitable. What a Churchill of a meal those flavours conjure up, and my chum, the British Bulldog, had sorted out a Quartz Reef pinot noir from the southern colonies to go with it.

I'm sure that the other three at the table enjoyed themselves as much as I did. Plates of oysters and wonderful combinations and executions like "crispy roasted duck, kumara mash, bok choi, Asian chutney and spiced cashews," or "oxtail dumplings with chargrilled ox tongue, sauteed scallops," or "roasted rice-crusted tuna with curry dressing and wok-fried greens" appeared and disappeared so rapidly that you couldn't flick your fork across the table fast enough to steal a taste.

Anyway, Editor, all I wanted to tell you was that if you thought Cibo used to be good, you ain't ate nothin' yet.

Open: Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat

Owners: William Laird, Jeremy Turner

General manager / maitre d': Jeremy Turner

Chef: Kate Fay

Food: Creative, adventurous fusions

On the menu: Bali marinated duck breast with Pegasus Bay crab cannelloni, coriander oil and pickled pineapple $17.95; Sumac crusted lamb rack and shank with a smoky aubergine fritter and Bulgarian feta salad $31; a study of banana: banana bread and butter pudding, banana pannacotta, warm banana split $12.95

Wine: Remarkable. You'll pay, though

Noise: Classic Motown seguing into urban beats

Vegetarian: You only have to ask

Smoking: Bar areas, outside only

Disabled access / toilets: Street entry, separate facilities but it's tight between those tables

Parking: Parnell lanes

Bottom line: Sometimes a great restaurant becomes even greater. Under general manager/maitre d' Jeremy Turner, Cibo exudes style, class, daring and then there's what uber chef Kate Fay does in the kitchen with the very best of ingredients and an eye to the best of seasonal produce. If we have to find fault, it's with the laddish behaviour of Parnell society frequenting the place.

* Read more about what's happening in the world of food, wine, fashion and beauty in viva, part of your Herald print edition every Wednesday.

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