Review: Molten, Mt Eden

By Peter Calder

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Herald on Sunday Rating: 4.5/5
Address: 422 Mt Eden Rd, Mt Eden
Ph: (09) 638 7236
Website: molten.co.nz

King prawns and shaved tongue from Molten. Photo / Michael Craig
King prawns and shaved tongue from Molten. Photo / Michael Craig

By and large I'm not in the business of constructive criticism. People who tell restaurants how to improve are called consultants or Gordon Ramsay, and they are both paid a good deal more for their services than your humble correspondent.

So I am not about to claim any credit for the fact that the wine bar at Molten is now called Molten Wine Bar. It was, when it opened, called Liquid Molten which, as I remarked at the time, was tautological because molten material is liquid by definition. The phrase also conjured images of lava pouring down the throat which was not terribly attractive.

I am sure the management was not out there the next morning tearing down the signage, but in the succeeding few years good sense has prevailed. I cannot think of a better name for the wine bar at Molten than Molten Wine Bar - and I'm glad to see that they can't either.

Molten Wine Bar is one of the Professor's favourite haunts. She's fond of sipping on a lemon, lime and bitters there while meeting work colleagues and she speaks highly of the bar food (which comes out of the restaurant kitchen).

So she was most happy when I told her I was taking her there for dinner.

So was I. Molten is the only restaurant I've reviewed three times - the pretext this time being that its founder, chef Michael Van de Elzen, is no longer in the kitchen but aboard the Food Truck of television fame. It has never disappointed but, on the verge of entering its 10th year of operation, does it still measure up?

The short answer is yes; the slightly longer answer is hell, yeah. Robert Richardson (Sub Rosa on the waterfront and, before that, Martin Bosley's in Wellington) is in charge now, and he turns out just the kind of satisfying but inventive tucker that you expect in a top-class bistro. It's not cheap (though neither is it terribly dear) but it's reliably satisfying.

Our waiter, a well-built chap with the footfall of a cat, had a habit of materialising at the table-side and answering questions we'd addressed to each other, which was a bit spooky until you got used to it, though he always made a useful contribution to the conversation if it was lagging.

And it was hard to object to him when he kept turning up with such lovely grub. I managed to steer the Professor away from the oysters - she is starting to take a half-dozen for granted these days and she needs to be put in her place from time to time - in favour of a dish of warm and meaty shelled tiger prawns on top of paper-thin slices of tongue. I love tongue but because it's such a pain to prepare, I much prefer to eat someone else's (if you know what I mean). Here, the rich red meat made a perfect counterfoil to the light flesh of the prawns.

The Professor always orders salmon for entree unless I tell her she's not allowed to because of her professional obligations as my dining companion. This was her lucky night. The salmon was manuka-smoked, warm and about as juicy as a February peach, and it was paired in a very happy marriage indeed with apple and fennel (the latter has become an ingredient again after spending several years as a punchline in jokes about people from Grey Lynn).

Both entrees were very summery, I noticed, which was a nice way of shaking a fist in winter's face. But our mains were comfort food par excellence: my veal osso bucco was pulled from the bone and served on rich but mildly flavoured tortellini (no obtrusive cheese), and the compulsory gremolata foregrounded walnut not lemon; the Prof's souffle (of kumara) was no slight and airy thing but a solid, filling dish brightened by a goat-cheese whip. We shared a red cabbage slaw with orange segments and grace notes of fresh coriander.

Nothing I might write would begin to do justice to our desserts - a hot chocolate fondant and a poached pear - but I can say that as I write, three days later, the Professor is back there eating it with her mates.

An intelligently constructed wine list, which makes it easy to wine-match to your food, completes the full package at this place.

I regret taking so long to return.

Need to know

Value: $$$

$ = $20-$40; $$ = 40-60; $$$ = $60+.
(Price guide reflects three courses for one person without drinks.)

Verdict

On the verge of its 10th year, this classy Mt Eden eatery continues to impress.

- Herald on Sunday

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