Copia, Ōrākei: 17 - Great
The fresh and foraged produce cup runneth over at this surprise find in Auckland's eastern suburbs.
The Silky Otter cinema sits on top of the Plant Barn.
That sentence looks like I just chucked a few random words at the page but I swear it's true. I don't know why it's called Silky Otter but that is definitely a movie theatre above a garden shop in the ever-expanding Ōrākei Bay Village. Wait, there's more. Indulge in some light urban off-roading (mind the uneven concrete surfaces) and you'll find Copia. And what a find.
In short, excellent food in a location that will just get better when the greenery grows.
Auckland's eastern suburbs are a bit of a dining black spot. So much location squandered by so much salt and pepper squid. Food that, at best, is bland (and at worst, is simply bad). Copia bucks this trend. My companion - no slouch in the eating out department - noted menu items she'd not seen anywhere else. Meanwhile, just when I feared our outlook might be a carpark full of luxury SUVs (and one Honda Jazz), there was the large deck with an Ōrākei Bay vista and the Sky Tower on the horizon.
If I was in the market for a function venue with indoor-outdoor flow, I'd be making an inquiry, stat. There's a slightly temporary feel about the place - the walls need bigger paintings and the kitchen garden needs another growing season - but the bones are decent. Also, there are actual bones. Ocean beef scotch, bone marrow crumb, cavolo nero and horseradish butter ($39). We didn't order this, but my point is, this is no boring steak frites in suburbia.
"We have no stories," says the menu. "Just good food."
We started with raw albacore ($24), the tuna that gets a green tick from the Best Fish Guide if it's troll fished and is still amber - okay - when it's long-lined. I'd usually avoid a dish like this when I'm reviewing - because how hard is it to slice a fillet?
At Copia, the delicate pink slabs were cut generous and lightly cured. I missed the metallic thunk I associate with those other tuna types (the ones we should be conserving, not eating) but couldn't fault the serious attention to detail. Both red and yellow tomatoes, confit, so they puddle in your mouth, all mellow and sweet. Nasturtium capers, which somebody had to forage and pickle (and thank you, because I love their bigger-than-caper-caperness), garlic chive oil and crackers spiked with seaweed. The menu said purslane and I think it might have just been microgreens - but no matter. It was a summery labour of love and just looking at it made me happy.
A "small" bowl of smoked beetroot-infused puy lentils ($23) was substantial. Almonds added extra protein and sprigs of native spinach (the same stuff Captain Cook fed his crew to fight scurvy) were ridiculously vibrant against an earthy, purple, risotto-like dish. The restaurant world's pivot to all things foraged can sometimes feel token but there was no question this spinach had more appeal than your standard supermarket stuff.
Mid-week, the service was not quite as polished as the food. The waitperson had to go to check what the fish was and I don't know why do so many restaurants fail to provide serving utensils. Just because I've agreed to share a plate, does not mean I want to share anything lurking on the fork that has been in my companion's mouth.
We stayed meat-free for the duration of our meal (options include sweetbreads, lamb rump, pork cutlets and venison). The fish fillet ($38) turned out to be john dory in a garlic nage, a chef word for broth and the cooking of seafood therein. There were tiny, knobbly, fresh-dug carrots and kina and seaweed butter that melted into a funky velvet. Elegant grunge. Courtney Love in her Hole heyday. A long, slow soak in a sun-warmed rock pool. Stunning.
Equally delicious, shiitake mushroom, walnut and cauliflower. The dried funghi had been soaked plump and the cauli came roasted and pureed, contrasting textures coated in the softest cloud of so much grated parmesan it looked like a newborn albatross. (Does anything complement umami like more umami?)
We had strawberries for dessert. A perfectly sweet-tangy sorbet and macerated fruit that tasted like a balmy night on a blanket at a music festival. Copia means "copy" in Italian but it's also linked to the Latin "cornucopia" - the mythological horn of plenty overflowing with fresh deliciousness. Sounds about right.
236 Ōrākei Rd, Ōrākei
Ph: (09) 520 2234
WE SPENT: $188 for two
WE THOUGHT: 17 - Great
Sip the list
Copia somehow manages to hit the simple, elegant, experimental and exotic all on a single sheet of double-sided A4. So, if you're not someone jollied along by thumbing through pages of "by the glass" or "by the bottle" or "cellar list" wines, followed by beers, spirits, cocktails and mocktails, then Copia's your cul-de-sac.
Hallertau on tap keeps the beer list concise and it's great to see Greywacke Wild Marlborough sauvignon blanc, Quarter Acre chardonnay and the Redmetal Hawke's Bay albarino all available by the glass and bottle. Fans of "natural" wines will fizz to see the Supernatural Pet Nat (short for "petillant naturel") sauvignon blanc up there with the classics, while lovers of exotically spicy viognier, gruner veltliner and gewurztraminer will be happy clappy. If you've never tried chenin blanc, then the Marc Bredif vouvray delivers your chance. My pick for pinot noir is the Maude Central Otago — or satisfy your syrah hankerings with the Theory & Practice or try the Paritua Red Blend to slake your cabernet cravings. Give those cavities something to scream about with the gorgeous Grava Late Harvest sauvignon blanc for a sweet treat or one of 18 "digestifs" and whiskeys. Cheers! — Yvonne Lorkin