Swoon over the hot vege bath and ignore the menu's dad jokes because the pizza tastes way better than it reads, writes reviewer Kim Knight.
151 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby
Ph: (09) 360 9138
WE SPENT: $177 for four
WE THOUGHT: 16 - great
There is pizza and there is cheese - but who cares? Because there is also a sludgy emulsion of anchovies, cream and garlic that is definitely one of the single best dishes I've eaten this year.
It's called a vege hot bath. Never mind that it looks like pond scum. If vegetables had sex, this is where they would go to get in the mood. Salty, creamy and unimaginably rich. It was a dirty weekend for snow peas and I wanted to jump right in there with them.
Obviously I didn't say any of this out loud. I was having lunch with my co-workers, who were enthusiastically discussing children's literature. Greg had never heard of The Borrowers. I desperately wanted to ask if anyone had read The Munch Bunch, a series of books about a group of unwanted vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts who shack up together in an abandoned garden shed, but, given that hot bath, I just couldn't trust where the conversation might go next.
"Two pizzas or three?" I asked, then ordered four anyway. When it comes to my colleagues, the only thing better than a free lunch is enough leftovers for a free afternoon tea.
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Elmos used to be Mr Toms, used to be Tin Soldier, used to be The Crib. It's been set up by the sisters who turned Golden Dawn into Hoppers Garden Bar and deploys a similar design aesthetic. The quirky portraits, faux Grecian statues and candelabras really work in this multi-level space. It feels fun. We sat under a reimagined Piero della Francesca painting and the little monkey on the Duke of Urbino's head made me laugh out loud.
In a city spoiled for restaurant choice, new openings need a point of difference. Burrata, the cream-filled ball of fresh mozzarella, is everywhere, but nowhere is doing Auckland's cheese du jour like Elmos.
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The menu included four variations on a tennis ball-sized theme and, with a side of flatbread, it's a convivial starter - slightly messy with a lovely bit of ceremony when you cut the cheese and centre oozes. We ordered the watercress variation ($19), which involved a green puree that looked suspiciously like something you might find at a wellness retreat. Counter this by ordering cheese with your cheese. Our Marmite and taleggio flat bread ($10) was a savoury puff of yum that indicated the pizza proper would be fabulous.
Elmos label their pizzas like a bad dad joke (the "tikka chance on me", for example, comes with raita and precisely zero laughs).
The "truffle shuffle" has a white base - no tomato sauce here - and loads of cheese. Field mushroom for heft, shitaake for texture and the truffle flavour delivered via a pillowy cream. Sumptuous and highly recommended ($28).
I had serious doubts about the "be my brisket" ($27). It didn't work as a word play and I couldn't begin to imagine it as a pizza. Mozzarella and tomato, yes; slow-cooked brisket in 24-hour red curry coconut cream, with coriander, peanuts and roasted coconut - this is what workmates are for.
In fact, I fought them off for a second slice. Should Ponsonby ever get sick of pizza, Elmos should just serve the brisket with a spoon. The meat melted, the peanuts crunched and there were no leftovers.
It's a great restaurant for a group, with seating that segues from streetside and sunny, to comfy stools and large leaners, to a more private downstairs. The service was mostly charming. I asked one waitperson how big the burrata was and she quantified the entire menu via a series of hand gestures - a kind of gastronomic Marcel Marceau. (We were less enamoured with the waitperson who outlined his curriculum vitae in a manner almost as annoying as the decision to call a pineapple-studded pizza the "Hawaii Not").
Mathematically inclined readers might be wondering about our fourth pizza. The Orlando Blue (I didn't get it either) is for all you prosciutto-lovers, because basically it's a charcuterie platter, with bonus gorgonzola and sweetly spiced roasted pear. There wasn't enough blue cheese bite for me but the true test of a pizza is how it fares after everybody is full. Back in the office at 4pm, all that was left was a stain on the take-out box.