38 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay
Ph: (09) 213 0776
WE THOUGHT: 13.5 - Good
WE SPENT: $168 for two.
The rain was a scythe. A shiny sheet of solid cold and wet slicing horizontally across Jervois Rd. We screamed and ran. On the doorstep, we shook our hair, our handbags, our very cores. A small, sodden pack of hungry.
"Inside table?" said our waitperson in the understatement of my dining year.
We took a small table down the long wall adjacent to the bar and tried to remember what this place used to be (Saigon Kitchen, I think). Izzy touts itself as a "unique blend of Japanese, Vietnamese and Latin cuisine", which sounds a lot but, when you think about it, is probably any given home-cooked week in the affluent and well-travelled suburbs.
Fellow diners included a middle-aged man on his own and a group of 30-something women who sounded very happy to see each other. It occurs to me I almost never see the all-male equivalent of this - an age-and-stage table of friends by circumstance or design, sharing food, gossip and the bill. Izzy is a good place for this kind of thing. It has the breezy easiness you want in a neighbourhood restaurant, with lovely staff and perfectly pleasant food.
We started with what the menu listed as a "little something", though by the time we'd pushed the taquitos order up to ensure we got two each, it wasn't so petite.
Jackfruit is a tropical colossus harvested for its peculiar internal "bulbs" that, when green, can be cooked and shredded like chicken and pork and other angst-inducing food words. Suffice to say, it's the new darling of the eat-less-dead-flesh set. I don't know how I got three years into this job without trying it, but Izzy's taquitos ($12 for three) were a first for me. Texturally, the jackfruit was not as meaty as the hype suggests, but it certainly looked the part and it has an awesome ability to soak up flavours. The taquitos (deep fried taco shells) were crunchy, the salsa was a little fruity (pineapple?) and very zingy. Our evening was off to a pretty good start.
Next on our Asian fusion-plus agenda was stuffed squid ($19). According to the menu the filling is brown rice and prawns. I struggled to get any sense of a shellfish flavour against the dry earthiness of the rice. The squid had exactly the right amount of chewy bite but, taken as a whole, this dish was dull.
Both of our starters were piled with shredded dried red pepper. I've never understood the appeal of that stringy garnish. Sure, it's the prettiest shade of smoky scarlet, but it tastes about as appealing as Barbie doll hair. Anyway, I'd skip the squid and go straight for the confit duck crepe ($17), which deploys a pile of super-fresh salad and a clever ribbon of raw carrot for garnish. This dish is cheaper and tastier than the squid (and if you're still not convinced, there's a little smack of nuoc cham on the side).
I've eaten from enough Asian fusion menus now to understand that smaller plates will not necessarily arrive before larger plates, or even the sides (the garlicky steamed greens were $9 of gorgeousness), but I did fear the spiced lamb rump ($30) had been forgotten. Oh my, the wait was worth it. Blistered black on the outside, sweet with a little heat and a juicy, well-rested interior. It was like a lamb that had been on excellent and slightly exotic holiday. It came with more salad (which we didn't really need, post-duck) and coconut yoghurt. Get a pile of roti bread ($4) and scoop and hoover at your leisure.
We saved our roti order for dessert. This flaky pastry pancake is all over pudding menus right now, providing a pie-like base for (on this occasion) salted caramel sauce and gingernut icecream ($12). I know the freeze-dried berry powder was mostly there for contrast but you can have too much of a good thing and there was way too much of this. I wish I'd gone for the dango balls, a sweetened rice flour Japanese street food staple that is a bit like chewing the inside of your own mouth (in a good and syrup-drenched way).
As it was, we had leftovers. Izzy boxed them all separately and with a smile because, as stated earlier, it's a warm and welcoming place - especially when the weather is not.