Phone: (09) 849 7268
Cost: $261 for four
Rating: 15 — good
The woman across the table had been to a wedding catered by Icco.
How was the food?
"I don't know," she said, regretfully. "I ate exactly this." Mary leaned forward and plucked a perfect slice of radish from a pretty pottery plate. The woman who had substituted champagne for sashimi missed out big time — because the food we ate last week at Icco was wonderful.
This is a jewel of a restaurant. An unpretentious charmer that, if you live nearby, you probably don't want me to tell anyone else about. (You almost certainly don't want me to say they even have a couple of car parks, down the alleyway, out the back).
We were there by accident. Half an hour earlier, on an insanely steamy Tuesday night, I had been standing outside a new opening that was decidedly closed. Cue frantic phone calls, a dash across town and the last spare seats available at Icco.
They had just 15 minutes' notice, but there was our table with its black-inked personalised placeholder and a beautiful origami swan (yes, you can take that home for the kids).
They do sake, obviously, but tall cold beers and an iced plum wine were the order of the day — eventually. Icco gets busy, and the service is a little stretched. Do yourself a favour and exercise the kind of gentle, patient calm employed by the waitstaff. Icco means "one house" and while plenty of restaurants spin the "mi casa, su casa" mantra, here it feels authentic.
We started with homemade pickles ($7.50) and pretty little mouthfuls of seared salmon on top of mashed potato ($7.50). Dominion Rd's Banzai is the comparatively-priced rich and melty exemplar, but it comes with rice — I liked the homeliness of Icco's mashed spud and mayo.
Icco's menu lists a handful of main-sized dishes, including a highly recommended Angus steak ($30). I will be going back in winter, but on an evening that felt more Singapore than Sandringham, we were content with a succession of small but perfectly formed plates.
Don't miss the agedashi shiki tofu ($10). Friends have described this as the nicest in the city and one mouthful sent me straight to Google for a recipe. It's deceptively simple — premium soft tofu coated in potato starch, gently fried and served in a little dashi broth. Each mouthful is a little crispy, and a little gummy. If I could make one half as good as Icco's, I'd be ecstatic.
Fresh spring rolls ($15) came with raw prawn and tuna, but the slightly gelatinous wrapper and a lot of greenery overwhelmed. I'd skip the vegetable tempura ($10) and get your five-plus via the green salad which was, more accurately, green and yellow and purple and red and came with a note from your GP congratulating you on your excellent life choices. (Not really — that would have cost considerably more than $8).
A medium sashimi platter ($28) was a simply presented complicated dilemma. Sublimely silky fish, treated with the utmost respect — but where did it come from and how was it caught and where does it sit on the Best Fish Guide? Menus need to list these things, lest diners fall down a rabbit hole of regret.
From fish to fromage, via a delightful dish of deep-fried halloumi sticks ($12) sprinkled with a curry-from-the-packet-like-grandma-uses salt, and a gooey, cheesy rolled thin omelette ($12). Personal favourite — an enormous side of grilled eggplant ($12) mushy with miso and cheese and hitting every sweet-salty-savoury note in the book.
We should have stopped there. We didn't. Soft-shell crab tempura ($14). Chicken karaage ($12). Cream-splurged banana caramel pie ($10). More wine. We left this house with our stomachs full and our hearts fuller.