We were looking forward to Cibo. Could the team uphold the standard we'd experienced over our previous few visits and freshen the experience at the same time?
Happily, the answer was yes. Over winter, Cibo transforms into a cosy haven of pink blossom and soft lighting, where a team of expert waiters make you feel very special indeed. This is fine dining, with prices veering over the $100-a-head mark, so it needs to be great.
The menu is interesting, varied and seasonal and the wine list even longer, with some exciting offerings. I started with a delectable Marlborough Johanneshorf gewurztraminer to accompany the top and tail wagyu beef entree. Both were brilliant. The "top" part of the dish was fresh tongue; the "tail" was a knockout, the small scotch egg stuffed with oxtail, then crumbed and deep-fried. The whole thing was pepped up with sliced mushrooms and tender early-winter glazed turnip.
Dinah was pleased with her duck popiah of paper-thin wraps filled with delicately-seasoned duck meat and Brian was in raptures over the pork belly. Only a true devotee could order pork belly as an entree, but Brian is an addict and this version came with a black pudding mousse. It was cooked so the crackling and scratchings popped and the underbelly melted. Meanwhile, Barb chose a pea and vegetable hotpot with Puy lentils from the vegetarian section. This turned out to be our prettiest choice - and tasty too.
All four entrees were relatively substantial without being overpowering and our main courses were even more sustaining. My garam marsala hapuku was excellent. Rather than drowning out the flavour, the spices managed to accentuate my favourite fish, which is becoming an all-too-rare treat. Brian's angus fillet was tasty and perfectly cooked. Dinah, however, thought her alpine merino lamb was a whisker over-done and the accompanying "lamb shank spring roll" too reminiscent of her entree wraps. Barb's fish of the day (snapper) was a delight: perfectly cooked and presented with new season's cauliflower, an oxtail risotto and thin crispy chips described as "potato scales" on the menu.
Now the place was hotting up and our team of waiters took their eyes off our wine glasses for long enough for us to feel a little neglected. But apart from this the service was outstanding. Every time one of us headed to the loo a waiter would gallop on ahead and open the door with a flourish. It sounds crazy - and it was a bit - but it was a nice touch and the loos themselves are beautiful with rolled towels and decorated with a bough of blossom (fake) matching the wallpaper.
For once I just couldn't manage a dessert but the others were delighted with the Valrhona chocolate selection and the orange delight. Again the bigger dishes had interesting add-ons: sesame toffee and milk chocolate mousse with the chocolate choice, blood orange sorbet and jaffa truffles for the orange plate. They were all exquisitely laid out on long plates. It's just a shame that the plum sherbet marshmallows were a little too sour.
One of the endearing qualities about Cibo is its flair. All dishes were served with a parade of side tastes to thrill the palate. The wines by the glass may be a tad expensive, but your glass at Cibo is always big and well-filled. The music is relaxing and romantic, the atmosphere upbeat, the service, with its flourishes and door-opening, great fun. In short, if you can afford it, you can't go wrong.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $445.50 for four entrees and main courses and three desserts.
Wine list: Long, well thought-out and with many interesting offerings.
Verdict: Fine dining combined with elegance, style and fun. Cibo delights by going that step further with its service, creativity and flavours.