Sweet as? Not quite, writes restaurant reviewer Kim Knight.
Scandal, Ponsonby: 13 - Good
I half expected to find a permed Miranda Harcourt at the next table. Ilona Rodgers with a hairsprayed helmet and Lisa Chappell in a big hat and bigger earrings.
Certain words belong to certain eras. A restaurant called Scandal, for example, is where the characters from Gloss would rub shoulder pads and sip sexually innuendoed cocktails. A restaurant called Scandal is where a woman called Brooke or Brittany would order avocado soup before going home to bonk the pool boy.
I am so not ready for the 1980s to become retro-cool (also, my 1980s were not that cool and seriously skewed by Jackie Collins et al) but here I am. At Scandal, the signage comes with a graffiti font I haven't seen since the Pongia brothers introduced breakdancing to Greymouth High School, circa 1985.
If the semiotics are dated, the menu is cuisine du jour. Think dumplings and bao, kimchi and gochujang, togarashi and takibo. Also think: We call this "Asian fusion" but why don't we label restaurants that serve paella AND pasta AND paté, as "European fusion"? Maybe an eatery that zips from lamb rump to lap cheong is, simply, a modern bistro a la Aotearoa?
I digress. Or, more accurately, I procrastinate. I wanted to give Scandal a higher score because everybody was so nice and the kitchen was working so hard and the food was very pretty - but there were a few "buts" to work through (literally).
A chicken curry ($30) was really good. Rich sauce, tender meat and, to my palate, thoroughly balanced flavours. Throughout dinner I struggled with dishes that were too sweet or too fried. It's the chef's prerogative to retain complete control but our evening would have been much improved if we'd been able to tweak to taste. A quartered lime, or a soupcon of chilli perhaps? (At the time of writing, limes were $50 a kilo - even a wedge of lemon would have done the trick.)
We could have also benefited from the judicious application of some inside knowledge from the otherwise incredibly friendly and attentive wait staff. We ordered pumpkin chips ($16) and squid ($18) from the "small plate" selection. Neither the menu nor the server advised that both would come battered and deep-fried. They were virtually indistinguishable, partly because the squid was so tender (good) and partly because the batter was so dominant (bad).
The menu did describe the pork belly ($30) as "twice-cooked". It did not say that one of those cooks involved breadcrumbs and hot oil. The soft, fatty nuggets were sweetened with miso and all that would have been okay had we not just consumed two bowls of crispy batter. Papaya salad, stat! The first forkful was a cool and necessary contrast, but as I ate on, I found myself wanting more chilli and acid ($18 for a large serve).
Scandal has put some thought into its aesthetic. It's in the building that was, most famously Moo Chow Chow and more recently, Teddy's. They've seriously redecorated and now it's all dark brick and epically lit marble. In the middle of summer, it felt a little close (and some of those chairs are uncomfortably wedged against the wall and the bar) but it will be winter cocktail season before you know it - our American guest couldn't resist the "Netflix and Chill" which he reported as, "Sweet, like Baileys."
One of the best things we ate was the aforementioned lamb rump ($18). It was in the "yakatori" section of the menu and I expected skewers, however, the scorched, juicy cubes of meat were plated individually and studded with radish, tomato, mint and (again with the sugar) chilli jam. Little morsels of yum, and finally a decent assist from the fresh accompaniments (also worth happily noting - when this dish was made for a Herald photographer a week after my visit, it included a wedge of lime).
Also recommended, the $15 vegetarian dumplings because I am a total sucker for both shitake mushrooms and that distinct macadamia-meets-watermelon crunch of a water chestnut and these were fat and perfectly cooked.
By now, I was too full for dessert, so I'm taking the word of my dining companions who said a pretty green pandan-infused crepe ($17) filled with little bubbly pearls of cold tapioca was great - the mouthful that I had was mostly pineapple caramel and my sweet tooth was already sated.
Sip the list - Yvonne Lorkin's drinks picks:
Thank God there's finally a restaurant in Auckland that'll serve me 9 litres of champagne if I so desire (Mumm Grand Cordon NV, Reims, Methuselah — not sure of the price but it's got to be three times the jerboam [sic] at $750 right?) or, if you'd rather indulge in anything remotely fizz-tastic, there are no fewer than 17 other examples to choose from. Seventeen. The rest of the wine list is pretty comprehensive, with each category having between five and 10 wines to choose from but don't get your hopes up about trying them all because there are only one or two in each section available by the glass. Personally I think that's just mean but also, hello, business hat on, it's summer and there's money to be made in glass pours of whites and rosés. The list is chocka with big brands from big distributors, which tells me that it's pretty much been left to confident sales reps rather than anyone at the restaurant itself. But the wines are solid and my picks are Jules Taylor Marlborough chardonnay, Akarua Organic Central Otago sauvignon blanc, Millton Organic Gisborne chenin blanc, the Geoff Merrill Bush Vine GSM (grenache, syrah, and mourvedre) and the Greywacke Marlborough pinot noir.
23 Ponsonby Rd
Ph: (09) 218 4930
WE SPENT: $183 for three
WE THOUGHT: 13 - Good