Restaurant Review: Cibo Is Fancy, Meaty And Saucy, And Pitch Perfect

By Jesse Mulligan
The duck from Cibo in Parnell. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Bistro

Phone: (09) 303 9660

Address: 91 St Georges Bay Rd, Parnell

Drinks: Fully licensed

Reservations: Accepted

From the menu: Scallop and crab special $33; cauliflower curry $29; venison $49.50; duck $49.50; asparagus $14.50; carrots $14.50; pineapple lump pavlova $25

It was mid-October at Cibo and the Christmas

Every time we chatted to our waiter, talk would inevitably turn to the months ahead, the way someone who was about to go to war might have difficulty thinking about anything else.

How many people do they serve each night? In December it’s 160. When had the previous chef left?

After one gruelling festive season too many. How were they finding the staff shortages? Things would be fine when the university students came back, just in time for Christmas.

This wonderful Parnell restaurant has always been a happy combination of Kate Fay’s brilliant food, and off-the-charts good service.

Now Kate has moved on but the waitstaff on the floor are still here, ensuring that it’s still the most welcoming dining room in Auckland. The sous chef is the new chef and apart from a few rearrangements the menu is familiar, with no perceptible drop in quality or imagination.

The cauliflower curry. Photo / Babiche Martens
The cauliflower curry. Photo / Babiche Martens

But let's linger with those waiters for a moment, who manage to maintain a "your wish is my command" vibe without ever lapsing into obsequity; who sing Happy Birthday to delighted guests in tuneful unison and manage to act like it's the first time, not the 4000th time (they did it twice while we were there); who sell one-liners like they're stand-up comics, not hospo staff; and who know everything about every dish and wine bottle in the building, so you can either turn your brain off and have one of the best restaurant meals in town, or engage the expertise of your waiter and appreciate the hours of thought and labour that goes into each delicious mouthful.

This is what happens when people who are good at a job decide to make a career of it. And while there are undoubtedly some middle-aged waiters around town who exude all the joyful optimism of an apartment cat, these guys show you what might be possible if more people were to quit their marketing jobs to work in restaurants, rather than the other way around.

There is a real style to Cibo, from these staff (there is no uniform but in their top pockets each wears a silk flower hand-stitched in Ukraine) to the candlelit garden, to the interior design which was redone for, I think, the World Cup in 2011, but is still one of the more beautiful and interesting feature walls to gaze at between courses.

Photo / Babiche Martens
Photo / Babiche Martens

The food is upmarket bistro, which is to say “fancy, meaty and saucy”. But look out also for an extra page of plant-based options: Kate Fay pioneered great gluten-free dining (one of her post-Cibo projects is a next-level GF flour you can buy at Sabato) and now the new guy Matt is doing a great job of making vegetarians not feel like second-class citizens.

I tried a light curry of cauliflower and carrot, served with blackened onion, the odd roasted chickpea, pancake fragments and a mesmerising sauce of coconut cream blended with kimchi.

I followed it with duck a piece of breast cooked to medium rare succulence, tucked under a fat, fall-apart drumstick which was bone-in and skin-on.

A bistro is the only place I think I ever order duck and it was a lovely, indulgently rich version here, accompanied by a mash that must have been half butter, and plum two ways in a brandy used as a braising liquid for red cabbage and as a bright, freeze-dried powder dusted over the dish.

Victoria had the most perfect venison rubbed in a heady cocoa powder then cooked rare and sliced so you could see that incredible gradation of deep brown to vivid crimson.

We had sides of carrots and asparagus, each cooked until unfashionably tender but all the better for it.

The pineapple pavlova. Photo / Babiche Martens
The pineapple pavlova. Photo / Babiche Martens

All this stuff was pitch perfect but the two most memorable orders included their martini: the cold gin softened with a little basil-infused sugar syrup which may be illegal authenticity-wise but I have to say worked incredibly well.

And then there was the pineapple lump pavlova, the famous chocolate-covered chunks handmade in the Cibo kitchen and apparently so tempting that the staff have been known to raid the supplies before a shift.

They were affixed to the side of the pav and I maintain that I had only my fair share but Victoria deeply believes I scoffed some of hers so, well, you know how marriages work, I’m now destined to hear about this perceived injustice every time somebody mentions the word Cibo from now until one of us dies.

You will make your own more agreeable memories at this wonderful restaurant I’m sure. This is usually the part of the review where I say something like “so get out there and support them” but 2022, a pandemic year in which customers are wary, employees are scarce and food costs are spiralling, has been Cibo’s busiest year yet. Get in if you can.

More Bistros

Saucy, busy, meaty and imaginative.

At Remuera’s Spring Bistro, Everything Is New And Green. The all-day restaurant serves sirloin and salmon, and still has that new car smell.

It’s A Big Drive But This Bistro Is One Of Auckland’s Best. The bistro is clever and imaginative, with a handsome courtyard and boldly hot crayfish.

At Moxie, Book Your Table And Then Book Your Beef. The Beef Wellington was a dish of such topographical singularity that I can’t forget it.

The Bistro That’s A Bastion Of Old-School Confidence, New Flavours. This busy, fancy bistro is now among Auckland’s great restaurants.

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