Phone: (09) 360 2122
Rating out of 10: Food: 9, Service: 10, Value: 8, Ambience: 9
One of the most interesting things about Sidart in Ponsonby Rd is that it takes fine dining to its own new level - for me, anyway. Head up the dark wood stairs, open the door and you walk into a surprisingly small oasis of velvety calm.
Almost every night owner and star chef Sid Sahrawat is there but on the night we visited he was keeping an eye on his new city start-up, Cassia. He may have crept in later, but by then we were having too much fun to notice.
On the first Tuesday of every month, Sahrawat and his team dream up a new menu, presumably based on what's exciting them and what's in season. Throughout the month, the dedicated chefs work on their dishes, tweak them, perfect them, so that by the time we arrived, at the end of July, they must have been almost at the peak of their game. And then they would set about inventing a completely different combination of flavours for the following month.
The only decisions you have to make are whether you want to eat five or eight courses, and which wines you want to drink, unless you choose the wine-matching option. You can, of course, demand to see a list of all eight dishes on offer and choose those that most appeal, but we decided to let the chefs take control, and they did: even to the extent of sending different dishes for the "gentlemen and ladies".
The wine list is shortish, and most of it pricey, too. Which brings me to Sidart's glasses: sparkling and polished, they sat in the centre of the table, along with a sprig of pink manuka flower, their flat, wide bottoms and narrowing tops making it look as though you're getting a thimbleful of wine, when indeed it's the full measure. But there is a point to them: for the first time ever I could really smell the wine's bouquet.
First up on the food front was an amuse bouche - in my case a tiny scoop of watermelon sorbet on a bright green spinach cream. Perfect to awaken the taste buds. The others had creme fraiche on their spinach - I figured I won.
Next was a glass of carrot soup, served warm in a glass, whipped to a foam on top, and partnered with a tiny swirl of raw tarakihi wound artfully around a toothpick. Although we thought this was the first of our five courses, we realised later that this was another "free" appetite-enhancer. Sweet and subtly spiced, it was terrific.
The swordfish arrived in the middle of its plate, formed into a perfect round, again raw and this time cut into tiny pieces, decorated with sauce and
sprinkled with dill and finely chopped crunchy onions.
And so it continued. High points for me were the duck, which was served blood rare and spectacularly tender with toasted walnuts, and the dessert, cardamom icecream served in a tube of handmade chocolate, with pistachio nuts, more chocolate and a hint of coffee.
The low point was the John Dory with soy, celeriac and red cabbage which, was a millisecond overcooked. Meanwhile, the gentlemen's scallops with foie gras were also a winner. The lamb rump with seaweed was a big hit, as was the crisp kale.
The plates are so small it's hard to realise when you've had enough. I was up to piggy's bow by the time we finished but I doubt our fit 49-year-old fried felt the same.
And although it was a truly beautiful meal and we could hear each other speak, even when the restaurant was full, we could have done with a little more of that exciting va-va-voom and personality that inspires the menu.
Our meal: $506 for four five-course meals, plus eight glasses of wine.
Wine list: Long and interesting, but only a few wines available by the glass.
Verdict: One of Auckland's best restaurants, Sidart is all about the food. Every dish is prepared with care and creativity. Flavours are interesting, sometimes thrilling, with some marvellous high points. It's comfortable and elegant without being showy, and service is meticulous.