Chicken heart and brown butter cake perfection at a small but perfectly seasoned newcomer, writes restaurant critic Kim Knight.
Eating at Omni made me 1000 times more elegant than I am.
Omni is to Dominion Rd as Denmark is to dining chairs. You should wear a crisp, white shirt and ethically sourced denim and shoes that have been knitted from a sustainably shorn sheep. Your name should probably be Joan.
Omni is impossibly stylish and minimalist in the extreme but don't mistake cool for cold. The service is sincere and warm. The food is sensational and it turns out the chairs are actually Scandinavian, sourced from the owner of The Vintage Shop that had been in this space for the preceding decade.
I love a sensory echo. Right now, it feels particularly important to cling to things that tug gently at the edges of memory. One day, perhaps, I'll get to go back to Japan. In the interim, I'll eat skewered chicken hearts cooked over binchotan and served on small aluminium trays in a former furniture store.
Those hearts were like biting into crisp grapes - so taut and juicy. The rich offal was offset with freshly, finely grated ginger and, in summary, this $8 skewer was one of life's perfect moments.
The restaurant seats just 25 people and serves five yakitori and seven small shareable plates. Drinks? Call me a pleb, but I've yet to get my palate around so-called "low intervention" wine lists. I stuck with the yuzu gin ($15) and it was like winter segueing into spring aka exactly my current mood. (Blackboard references to highballs just made me wistful for Japan).
A single dessert option ($10) arrives as a kind of fancy muffin. Eat it at face value or consider the fuller description: Roasted koji, brown butter and cloudy sake custard. Brown butter is sublimely, caramelly addictive. Koji is a grown-on-purpose mould and a starting point for umami flavours. Brownie-dense and cake-light, it left a mysteriously warm and nutty aftertaste. The sake, which we'd already experienced in a goblet, was more texture than flavour - a thick, smooth, cooling squiggle. I know I've just spent 80 words describing a small cake but this was truly a dessert of Proust-like proportions. I wanted to get on a plane and go back to what life used to be like, stat.
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We're so lucky in Auckland that great restaurants keep opening and great chefs keep transporting us beyond the confines of this stupid, scary pandemic. Order the whipped snapper and all will be all right. Basically, it's a slightly smoky fish dip, loaded with plops of warm salmon roe, that you scoop up with slices of warm bread ($19). A safe, salty haven.
Contrast that creamy goodness with a $17 cucumber salad (I would have added more chilli but I did enjoy the peanuts) and a pile of oyster mushrooms ($19). The charcoal grill hit the frilly edges hard and left the meaty centre soft, with a sweet onion and black garlic puree bridging the two flavour profiles. Really interesting eating.
By now, the katsu sando ($13) was surplus to requirements (and, initially, forgotten from our order) but I'm glad we stayed the course. A plump minced chicken patty, crumbed and fried, a little tangle of shredded, mayo'ed cabbage and two neat circles of soft, white sandwich slice? There are many reasons white bread will never really go out of fashion and the katsu sando, slowly popping up all over the city, is the latest (and possibly greatest).
At Omni, there's little separating diner and dinner prep. Neither side has anywhere to hide. I watched two chefs pick painstakingly through a pack of greens for what felt like a full 20 minutes and, while I have no idea what they were doing, the attention to detail in that kitchen was mesmerising. More importantly, it tastes delicious.
Omni, 359 Dominion Rd, Mt Eden
We spent: $169 for two