Address: 280 Karangahape Rd, City
Phone: (09) 373 4778
apero.co.nz

Really good service is remarkably rare in the restaurant game, but if you want to see some, watch Ismo Koski at work.

Cool name, eh? His dad hailed from Finland, though Koski junior, who came here from Sydney years ago, goes by Mo. He and his French partner, Leslie Hottiaux, opened Apero, which takes its name from the French informal word for an afternoon drink, late last year, and they have some serious hospo credentials: Sidart, Merediths and The Grove (where they met). Leslie has also cooked at Baduzzi and she learned classical French technique from Gilles Papst at the (regrettably defunct) Ile de France in Newmarket.

The couple set up shop together - "I always wanted to start a place," Koski told me, "but the hardest thing is finding a chef you have 100 per cent trust in and then the chef decides to leave" - in a former tattoo parlour on the south side of K Rd, just where it bends. Most of the time, they're a two-person operation and as Mo moves among the tables in the homely narrow, brick-walled room, he oozes ease, without being ingratiating, he spruiks the food in a way that makes the mouth water and he talks about wine in an enthusiastic and informed but unpretentious fashion.

With the possible exception of being asked twice in the first 30 seconds how our day had been (I'm one of those who thinks asking once is too often), it was a bravura display of hospitality.

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The name may suggest a wine bar - and indeed it's a fine place for a glass of whatever takes your fancy from the eclectic and adventurous wine list. But you'd be crazy to drop in here and not try at least something of what Hottiaux is whipping up in the kitchen.

If nothing else, you have to get a load of the house-made pork sausage: an exultant celebration of Hottiaux's Toulouse origins, it is sold by the metre and arrives at the table in the distinctive coil with pickles and globs of different mustards (trust a Frenchwoman to know that all meat is better with mustard; in most places they don't seem to have heard of it). The taste is earthy and dense, but sensationally unfatty, and as a signature dish, this takes some beating.

There was more: that prince of hams, jamon Iberico, was sliced a bit thinly for my taste, but croquettes mixed goat's cheese and kamahi honey in such perfect proportion that sweet and savoury danced on the tongue and argued about who was in charge.

A fat ball of burrata was imaginatively paired with falafel (although annoyingly there were only three falafel balls for four of us). Herby, garlicky roasted mushrooms reminded me of the kind of stuff Nigel Slater prescribes for a fireside supper. And we couldn't go past the crumbed, fried sweetbreads on the specials board which came on a creamy but astringent veloute sauce.

The menu mentions "something fish", which is catch-dependent, but you can expect more than a fish-of-the-day cliche: we had thin-sliced raw snapper, topped with tiny balls of pickled cucumber, fresh grated horseradish and crispy shallot. Sublime.

If you feel like the chocolate fondant is too much of a challenge, don't go past the tiny madeleines, shell-shaped sponges, cooked to order and served warm. The prime rib will have to wait until next time. They say it's meant for two, but it will be hard to persuade me to share it.

Dishes: $6 (olives) - $100 (750g prime rib), most between $15 and $25.
Verdict: Uptown local is a perfectly pitched blend of wine bar and eatery.

Cheers

By Joelle Thomson, joellethomson.com

Lighten up

To be accurately described "low alcohol", a drink must contain 1.5 per cent alcohol, not one iota more, which is in the no-fun zone for most of us. Enter Stolen Kiss Rose, which contains 12.5 per cent alcohol - verging on "lower" these days. This flavoursome pinkie has doubled in sales every year since it was first made in 2006 at Rockburn Wines in Central Otago. It's an innovative drink for a region whose winemakers have a pretty narrow range of tools in their flavour box: 80 per cent of Otago's vineyards are devoted to pinot noir and anything that dilutes that formula is often given a sideways glance, but there are other strong strings to the region's wine bow. Two are that lovely drinkable pinkie with the seductive name (Stolen Kiss Rose, from Glengarry's) and, from the same producer, a 9 per cent alcohol riesling, of which winemaker Malcolm Rees-Francis will double production of this year. Not for us Kiwis. Most of don't want to touch the stuff, due to the bad old days when muller-thurgau was labeled "riesling sylvaner" and tarnished the image of the Real McCoy. He is making more for the Aussie market, where they are taking to it like ducks to you know what ...

Drinks of the week

2013 Rockburn Tigermoth Riesling $35, 9 per cent ABV

Inspired by great German wines (thin on the ground in New Zealand) and made in Central Otago, this is succulence magnified and ticks all the boxes, including the lower alcohol one.

Mahurangi Gin by Waiwera Spirit, $80

Meet New Zealand's newest gin, made with traditional juniper and manuka flowers; it is packaged in an old fashioned khaki green bottle with a classy glass Vinolok seal. From waiweraspirit.co.nz