A Mt Eden daytime cafe launches a perfectly inoffensive evening menu, writes restaurant reviewer Kim Knight.
421-425 Mount Eden Rd, Mount Eden
Ph: (09) 638 8239
WE SPENT: $164 for two
WE THOUGHT: 14 - Good
Is the cheesecake baked?
"I don't know how to answer that right off the top of my head, mate," said the waitperson.
We stared at each other uncertainly for a small moment. "Umm," I ventured. "Would you be able to find out?"
He came back, enormously pleased with himself. "What I can tell you about the cheesecake," he said, "Is that it's awesome."
Full marks for enthusiasm.
In fact, the iPress experience scored relatively well across all Canvas restaurant review metrics. It was an unexpected find on a sunny Friday evening mooching around Mt Eden village, where the independent bookseller is open until a very civilised 9pm but the pasta place, inexplicably, closes at 8.30pm.
I was surprised to see the tables outside what I had thought was a daytime cafe. Turned out iPress was a scant fortnight into dinner service.
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The restaurant is like a tardis. A small downstairs gives way to multiple upstairs dining spaces decorated with vintage radios, framed board games and other curiosities. There is a bar, an astro-turfed rear deck and the kind of lounge furniture your parents bought when they got married, circa 1970. (Back then, no one could predict black vinyl couches with scratchy orange nylon cushions would eventually be worth more than a spa pool. Sadly, your parents dumped said furniture before the advent of Trade Me bidding wars, turmeric lattes and their child's desire to go full retro in an overpriced Auckland rental. But I digress).
The iPress menu is an inter-generational affair. Something for everyone and, sometimes, all of that on the same plate - witness the boomer lamb rump paired with millennial miso.
If your palate came of age around the same time as a vinyl couch, you might consider the chicken ballotine. The trussed and stuffed boneless French classic makes a delightful comeback here, wrapped in bacon and piled on a silky puddle of pureed butternut ($29.50).
The plate was a coalition of colours, flavours and textures. Juicy (brined?) chicken with smoky-sweet strips of corn kernel, lightly chilli-pickled capsicum and spring onion, plus kūmara and sugar snap peas. Perfectly inoffensive.
We started with cured salmon, which arrived as a horseshoe arrangement of six pieces of bruschetta, moreishly salty slabs of fish and a yuzu-spiked "creme" that was milkier than I anticipated. At $19, you're looking for something flasher than a supermarket deli-assisted platter and iPress was 95 per cent there - textbook crispy capers, even if the little cubes of beetroot could have had more sharp-sweet cut through.
The menu is divided into "small" and "large" dishes. To go a little bit Goldilocks about this, those descriptors are misleading. Get one small dish between two people and you'll be just right. Miso-roasted cauliflower studded with a trio of deep-fried goat's cheese balls warranted its $18.50 price tag by volume alone (fortunately, given the quantity, it also tasted great).
I wondered if I had made the best use of my entree stomach when I read the phrase "beef cheek fritter". We just couldn't justify another small-but-seriously-medium dish. Times like this you appreciate a chef who looks at a scotch fillet with a creamy potato and fig gratin, charred broccoli, sharp chimichurri sauce, molten-soft confit leek and jus and thinks: "Something is missing." A single tempura-crisp beef cheek fritter was decorative AND meaty. At $29.50, this is a very good value steak dinner.
We ordered churros with butterscotch ($14.50) and there were about 200 of them - or at least 12 - and it was definitely too much (side note to the kitchen: the sauce had split).
About that cheesecake: It was not baked. It was not amazing. The jellied berry topping was too sweet and the base too buttery for our taste buds. You want to go on a little journey when you eat this kind of thing - crunchy, creamy, tart - and here we were on the Canterbury Plains of cheesecakes, safely buckled in on a very straight and boring road.
It was emblematic of a wider experience. iPress had a few more high points than the highway west of Christchurch but we didn't get much past Darfield. Our meal had been neither amazing nor terrible. On a moochy Friday night, however, it had been just right.