110 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby
09 376 6477
WE THOUGHT: 14 - Good
WE SPENT: $177 for two
Be careful what you wish for?
I know I've been moaning a bit lately about the proliferation of Asian fusion restaurants; about how you can't swing a credit card in this city without hitting a smoked cheese dumpling or a Bluff oyster bao.
It's not that I don't love shumai and chawanmushi et al, but isn't it time for a change? Enter Epicer. It's Indian and French and it would not be, promised the waitperson, like anything I'd experienced before. When the lamb potli samosa arrived tied off with a fresh garlic chive, I knew he was right.
More than 120 meals into this critical eating gig, Epicer is the first to truly confound. First up, if you want very high-end Indian, there is still only one restaurant in town. Epicer is to Sidart as, perhaps, Cobb & Co is to The Grill. In all honesty, it wouldn't be my second or third pick either (Cassia and 1947, if you were wondering). But there is a novelty factor - and a very real commitment to excellent service - that makes me reluctant to damn this newcomer to that growing group of Indian eateries going beyond butter chicken in a shared bowl.
Physically, it has a real sense of occasion. Pale lemon and pink chairs, peacock green walls and a properly grand high-ceiling make the fit-out a sight for Scandi-sore eyes.
The cocktail list is long and inventive. I was the first customer of the night and the recipient of a hard sell that included a housemade whiskey and something with multiple iterations of rosé. The latter is allegedly the prettiest cocktail in the city, so I'm sure the bartender was gutted when I ordered the date and tamarind margarita ($17). It looked like a rural water supply after heavy rain (which didn't stop me totally licking the spicy salt rim clean). Erica's adraki caipirinha ($15) was packed with enough raw ginger to cure several common colds, though it took a few sips for the heat to cut a very sweet top note.
The bar snack menu includes naan that sounds like pizza (mushroom, truffle, blue cheese, etc) and aforementioned samosa. "Potli" means parcel and these ones were pinched like little pouches. The pastry was thick and a little dry; the filling slightly fatty and gristly and only a little bit spicy. It reminded me of mince on toast. Yum, said Erica, confessing that one pre-teen birthday, when she could have had anything she liked for dinner, she'd asked for mince on toast.
We agreed the best dish of the night was a pork vindaloo entree ($22), in which individual cubes of belly meat had been sous-vide cooked to melting point and then recooked to crunch the crackling and served with two kale chips. Four pieces of pork were placed just so on a long oval plate and napped with a piquant vindaloo sauce. If you have never read me use the word "nappe" before then consider it indicative of the old-fashioned formality of my Epicer food experience.
All food comes plated as a self-contained meal. A little floret of broccoli here, a roasted carrot there and quite a lot of marigolds. It is Indian cuisine for Sunday roast eaters; a collision not a collusion and I struggled to make it make sense.
Fortunately, I wasn't just eating with my eyes. Two sets of taste buds loved the deeply savoury rice that came with a lamb biryani ($24) and I suspect, all other biryanis, since the meat was served as a skewered extra.
Our waitperson recommended a vegetarian-friendly dish labelled "spinach kofta fennel sauce" ($22) but I can't. Tasteless and rubbery, it reminded me of the tightly wound inside of old fashioned golf balls.
Goan fish ($25) was chunks of kingfish lightly crusted with semolina, more cooked than I would have liked, in a heavy sauce that was less spicy than I would have liked.
I looked around the room and saw that one table had ordered the flaming lamb chops. This, finally, was the promised French flair. More of this, I think, might ensure Epicer's survival. Because while the room is grand, the service is great and the cocktails are interesting, baby carrots and chive garnishes are not.