18 Westmoreland St W, Grey Lynn
Ph: (09) 360 8125
WE SPENT: $162 for two
WE THOUGHT: 16 - great
The waitperson frowned when I paused at a booth seat.
"It gets very bright there. Like, VERY bright."
I did a quick mental inventory of the contents of my handbag and knew my service station sunglasses were not postcode-appropriate.
Ozone Coffee Roasters is in the heart of gentrified Grey Lynn. A stone's throw from Farro, Citta et al, its daytime cafe appeal is obvious - industrial Scandi with a side of Melbourne in a light and airy room.
Brunch comes with provenanced toast spreads (Marlborough hazelnut butter, Ōmāhu marmalade) and by dinnertime, even the tomatoes have terroir (Waitākere). That's Hawera quinoa, Putaruru goat's curd and I don't know where the apple cucumber comes from but what a delight to see this homegrown heirloom favourite on a city menu.
Ozone's own origin story began two decades ago in New Plymouth. A London-based business followed and now the label is writ large in Auckland. Really large. The premises include a coffee roastery, an entirely open central kitchen with counter-seating down three sides plus an outdoor area, booths and more.
Our waitperson was on her first evening shift and not yet across the menu. Nduja? No idea. She came back to tell us it was a spicy flavour. Hmm. According to my phone, it's a spreadable spicy salami made from pig shoulder, belly and, sometimes, stomach lining. In quinoa-infested Grey Lynn, these details are important.
Fortunately, we were two women from small-town South Island where pig mostly just comes with roast potatoes and crackle. I ordered the smoked carrots with labneh and dukkah ($8) and tried to imagine our respective fathers' faces. This excellent starter - creamy, smoky, sweet - set the scene for a night of great food.
We split a sourdough bruschetta with whipped ricotta and pickled beetroot ($16). I love this cooked-with-acid treatment of carpaccio-thin root vegetables that keeps the integrity of the vege and really gives your mouth something to work with. Begone avocado and/or green pea mush!
The menu comes with colour photographs of cooked mussels and raw pasta. I am easily influenced, so we were definitely having the mussels ($18).
They arrived on the half-shell, dusted with burnt tomato powder. At the bottom of the dish, there is a whey emulsion which, technically, adds protein and, less technically, adds OMG and WTF? The emulsion is a milky, buttery, caramelly revelation. The tomato powder has a savoury tang. There's salt from an anchovy mayo, and the shellfish is both sweet and savoury. Somehow, Ozone has taken a bowl of mussels and transformed it into a packet of deluxe Shapes crackers. This dish is a total triumph.
Our second mains arrived. Hanger steak ($32) was chewy and tasty; the chips definitely rank among Auckland's best. I wondered if the Longbush pork schnitzel ($28) had been brined in milk because there was a luscious creaminess to the crispy-crumbed meat. A pile of homemade piccalilli gave wonderful cut-through, but unfortunately a side of spuds and confit fennel had the taste and texture of Sunday's leftovers served on Tuesday.
(Note: the menu did not say "crispy-crumbed" because this is Grey Lynn, not Greymouth. Also, if you're from the South Island and wondering, "piccalilli" is really just a flash word for chow chow. And obviously I'm okay with leftovers but I was glad my dining companion was happy to share her stellar chips.)
We finished with takeaway pizza. Or, rather, our significant others who were at home emptying dishwashers and feeding children finished with takeaway pizza. Four of Ozone's $20-$26 range come "bianche", which is Italian for "white". I was curious but stuffed to the brim (see above). Verdict: What they lack in tomato, they make up for in cheese.
The base was (I was told) thin and chewy, the crust was puffy and the mozzarella hot and stretchy. Confit garlic pervaded and I started to think that at Ozone maybe "nduja" really was just a flavour, because there was no discernible sign of a spreadable, spicy salami. It was, however, delicious. "That was so thoughtful of you," he said. Dear reader, I cannot lie. I had half a slice for breakfast. Because you can take the girl out in Grey Lynn, but you'll never take the Greymouth out of the girl.