422 Mt Eden Rd, Mt Eden
Ph: (09) 638 7236
I had gone for the chook. The chook that upset an online reviewer called Irish Eyes, who said it was too damn salty.
This opinionated diner had not apparently noticed the first word ("brined") in the menu description or the mention of "pancetta" (a salt-cured pork-belly bacon).
Anyway, I didn't have the stomach for it. I've never got this brining chicken thing, which seems to be the default these days. My attempts have yielded a meal which is ... well, too damn salty. So I stayed clear, as Eyes should have, rather than eating it all and then bitching about it online.
At Molten the entrees are called "bar snacks", a reference to the fact that the food for the busy wine bar of the same name next door comes out of the restaurant kitchen. And you can get three of them for $35, which has to be about the best bistro value in Auckland.
Since founders Michael and Belinda Van de Elzen moved on in 2011, the place has, it seems to me, gradually relaxed its style. On this latest visit, our fourth in a decade, we found the transformation from upmarket bistro to casual neighbourhood dining room almost complete.
Signature dishes (duck livers in marsala cream; spinach and ricotta linguine with Waikanae crab) are gone, in favour of a menu with charcuterie, pizza and pasta sections. Main courses, which include hearty choices such as pork belly and beef cheek, are all under $30.
The walls have been stripped to reveal rough concrete, though hanging plants seem to absorb a lot of the reflected noise - the atmosphere is cheerful rather than deafening. And the service style is commensurately warm.
Our waitress, Sonya, who greeted some diners by name, was a study in efficiency and charm, engaged without being in your face, and dealt with a glitch in one dish with slick professionalism.
The dish in question was bone marrow a la St John, a reference to the wonderful nose-to-tail restaurant in the old Smithfield meat market in London. Having eaten Fergus Henderson's bone marrow there I know how good it can be, though personally I think Al Brown's Depot version, in which the bone is sawn in half lengthwise, is even better.
In any case, chef Rensha Bouwer's bone marrow offering had obviously not spent nearly enough time in the blisteringly hot oven that is called for and the marrow in the biggest bone was a wax-like plug of barely tepid white lard.
The waitress was quick to take it away when asked and promise a fresh one; quicker still to cancel it when we told her that, the Professor having taken a mouthful, we'd quite lost the taste for it.
This was a singular, although significant, blemish on an otherwise excellent evening. The cheese sauce on an upscale Welsh rarebit was lent colour and piquancy by the mild Basque chilli pepper called espelette; eggplant parmigiana, which used smoked scamorza, a stronger-tasting cousin of mozzarella, was state-of-the-art.
A main of tender but not disintegrated lamb shoulder with tomato ragu and puy lentils was a real blast of Provence and the bouillabaisse banished memories of the shocker at Regatta: fat chunks of trevally; cockles; scampi; mussels that melted in the mouth; and a big, bold broth and a rich rouille to go with the Wild Wheat sourdough.
Desserts of maple pannacotta (with poached pear and a crisp biscuit-like cake made with olive oil) and a sparklingly tangy passionfruit semifreddo made an excellent end to an almost perfect meal.
The new, relaxed Molten is just the ticket, I reckon.
Entrees: $5-$15; pizzas $19-$24; pasta, risotto $21; mains $23-$28; desserts $14.
Verdict: Relaxed local bistro is excellent value for money.