'Tis the season to share pavlova. Reviewer Kim Knight tucks in at Cibo.
91 Saint Georges Bay Rd, Parnell
Ph: (09) 303 9660
WE SPENT: $337.75 for two
WE THOUGHT: 18 - Great
"Your table is ready," said the waitperson in the tailored shorts. "Would you like to go through, or have a drink at the bar?"
The women wearing only-black-is-the-only-new-black-darling considered their options. "Is there anybody famous at the bar?"
Parris Goebel. Lisa Carrington. Kiri Te Kanawa. Suzanne Paul. Jean Batten. Head chef Kate Fay. All present and accounted for on the namesake cocktail list.
"Cibo" literally means food. In Auckland it also translates as lots of wine, a bit of whitebait and a very long lunch on someone else's tab.
If the midday sessions are legendary, I can also vouch for its after-dark discretion. Last time I ate here, I typed the following into my phone: "Kumara sobgoo. I've juT eats the best onio. Ring oft life." In consultation with my boss (who may or may not have ordered the "MoSt axing fried mussel" but definitely ordered the chardonnay) we decided not to run that review.
Tonight, I'm starting with tap water and eating in earnest for the Canvas Christmas issue. Nothing says seasonal like a strawberry shortcake pavlova the size of baby Jesus' head.
First, we had a couple of Clevedon oysters with a sweet chardonnay vinegar. A raw oyster is a raw oyster, so why am I even mentioning them? Because I'd misheard the waitperson and ordered four when they usually only serve six or 12. No, he said. But then he came back and said, "Of course," because that's the kind of service only money can buy.
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At Cibo, the tablecloths are still white and the guests still include a woman in a full-length leopard print coat and one of New Zealand's richest men. "It's like being on a cruise ship," said Erica, conspicuously brunette and conscientiously not ordering the whitebait (four of the five juvenile species that make up the collective catch are reportedly in decline).
Scallops? I tried not to think about the demise of the top of the South Island fishery.
Modern diners are literally paying the price for the scarcity of a product our parents used to knock back by the deep-fried dozen. It was $36 for a just-cooked trio; perfect on their own though slightly lost against an accompanying goat's cheese-stuffed baby zucchini flower in a tempura batter that wasn't as light as we'd anticipated.
I had definitely won at entrees. A slab of confit salmon served with a smoky, fishy "custard" was luxury writ large ($28.50). Dashi had been thickened and blobbed, there were slippery wriggles of cucumber for crunch, oily pops of salmon roe and clever cut-through via lightly pickled shiitake mushrooms. Glamorous food for a humid night. I felt less sweaty by the mouthful.
My main was the gloriously inelegant reverse. "Slipper lobster" is a pretty descriptor for an ugly bug that was splayed across moist hāpuku, swamped in sticky, spicy XO sauce ($46.50). Hefty with flavour, deliriously heady with scent, you'll want to strip down (or at least not wear white) and really get stuck into this one. Also, it comes with a laksa-like coconut "porridge" and all porridge needs to be exactly like this now.
I think Erica had the duck.
The main point of this review was to taste the strawberry shortcake pavlova. There's a photograph of it on this page but you need to see it in real life to appreciate the enormity of the situation. Choose from three flavours and consider the $21 price tag justified if you're sharing. You will actually explode if you don't share.
(Yes, Erica did have the duck, $46.50 with a whiff of five-spice and the whimsical drape of a pancake, it was tasty and satisfying. We'd ordered sides. I wish someone had warned us it might be too much. On the other hand, the $14.50 dish of duck-fat kūmara with sweet-sour squiggles of vinegar syrup, was especially great with the poultry).
Back to that pavlova. Is there another dessert that uses so few ingredients to create so many reckons? Do you like your centre to be chewy or marshmallowy or - as per Cibo - somewhere in between? I think we can agree that - as per Cibo - a crunchy exterior is crucial. It must break into shards that dissolve on the tongue while supporting the weight of too much whipped cream and suggestively plump red berries. Dollops of strawberry mousse? A little balsamic gel for respite? Oh, go on then. It's Christmas.