Address: 56a Brown St
Phone: (09) 360 0927

Decades of loud bands in noisy bars, as well as the attrition of years, took an inevitable toll, I was saying to a friend. She, an audiologist, knew where this was going.

"So you find it hard to hear in crowded parties and in restaurants?"

The latter particularly, I said, and recounted my customary complaints: the volume of "background" music in some restaurants, the proximity of the coffee-grinder to customers' tables in many cafes, and don't we love wooden floors and high ceilings where the slightest noise cannons around?

And so I was immediately smitten by Cocoro's relaxing ambience, where the ceiling is low, the elegant design emphasises the horizontal and the floor has sound-absorbing carpet tiles. My kind of place, I said to my wife, sotto voce. Because I could.

Billing itself as "new style Japanese cuisine", Cocoro is in the old brick building in Brown St, where Ivan Zagni pulled together a collective of musicians to form Big Sideways and Avant Garage in the early 80s. Back then, the gentrification hadn't fully arrived but today the area is swish with street-level designer stores alongside Cocoro.

But none are quite as discreetly elegant as 40-seat Cocoro, overseen by chef/owner Makoto Tokuyama, also of Soto, a place we have thought enjoyable but somewhat overrated.

Cocoro - with an interesting degustation menu and also Japanese "tapas" - impresses on every level.

It was chilly evening so Megan asked for a recommendation of a warm, rounded sake (Glorious Brocade, it was ideal) and I took the more than decent Hakusyu whiskey (an Irish-style single malt) while considering the menu.

Our helpful waiter explained the chef's recommendation - fatty belly of Southern Blue Fin tuna - would indeed be fatty (it was, interesting enough but not to our taste), and that the very non-Japanese charcoal-grilled Kransky sausage was exactly that (we ordered two out of curiosity, and they were Kransky sausages with mustard).

But of the rest there was an inspired concordance of flavours. Megan said the tofu - with the diced chicken, vegetable and ginger foam - was the best she had tasted outside of Mei Prefecture, which is famous for it. And, although they were chewy, I enjoyed the fried slivers of dried and charcoal-seared skate wing, which came with mayonnaise, a dusting of chilli powder on the side and two tasty semi-dried scallops.

The mixed tempura was in the most featherlight of batters, but the sublime dish was the large paradise prawns in a scallop and oyster gratin, with tiny crowns of roe and a hint of lime. And everything was subtle.

Megan's dessert of black sesame creme brulee was the perfect end - but as a finale we, and other patrons, were offered a complimentary cup of their persimmon icecream.

Chef Tokuyama delivers memorable dishes in a refined atmosphere and next time we will try the degustation menu (for which you have to book). Cocoro really is something.

And I intend saying so to anyone who will listen - and is able to hear me.

Rating out of 10
Food: 9
Service: 8
Value: 8
Ambience: 9

Our meal: $145 for six "tapas" dishes (some double servings), a dessert, two pots of sake, a whiskey and two glasses of wine.

Wine list: Favours organic with predominantly New Zealand and a few French selections. Also French and New Zealand champagnes, Japanese and local beers, Japanese plum wines and vodkas and of course, sake.

Verdict: The name Cocoro apparently means "the heart and soul" and chef Tokuyama puts both into sublime and subtle dishes in an elegant and quiet setting.