Thursday, February 23, 2012

A week of surprises

It's been an exciting week for me, being able to try a number of different items I've never had before.  Who knew Auckland had so much to offer?

Mountain Caviar and Piko Piko @ Cocoro Degustation Dinner

I'd heard plenty of good things about the degustation dinner at Cocoro, so when Valentine's Day rolled around, it was the perfect opportunity to give it a go.  I usually find that such dinners present far too much food for one person to eat, and this was no exception.  The problem is, the dishes taste so good you don't want to let them go to waste.

The seafood, such as the blue fin tuna (sustainably farmed in Japan), was exceptional, but I was particularly happy to be able to taste some ingredients I have never seen before.  On top of the beautifully light and crispy courgette filo tempura, which looked like a bird's nest, there was some "mountain caviar".  The waitress assured us this was vegetarian, and the menu called it "belvedere fruit".  I didn't even know such a thing existed.  It didn't taste like much, but I guess it's used as a garnish (the Japanese call it tonburi and it's apparently a delicacy of the Akita prefecture) because of its caviar-like texture.

One third of the third course: Courgette filo tempura, Worcestersire sauce, egg tartare, belvedere fruit or "mountain caviar".
While Cocoro is a Japanese restaurant, the chef also uses plenty of New Zealand ingredients, from the karengo seaweed sprinkles to the whitebait in the chawanmushi.  For the first time ever, I was also able to try eating a piko piko frond.  This Maori fern shoot tasted like a bitter green bean or asparagus.

From the vegetarian degustation menu: Summer vegetable tempura of courgette flower, piko piko, eggplant and baby carrot with micro mizuna, karengo and cauliflower in white vinegar dressing.
6-course degustation dinner ($80) at
56a Brown Street, Ponsonby
(09) 360 0927
Sundays and Mondays closed.
Tuesdays to Saturdays 12 - 2pm and 5:30 - 10pm

Exotic Fruit @ Bhana Brothers

While wandering around the streets of Ponsonby, I found myself in what looked like a well presented dairy, with fresh flowers outside and spacious aisles inside.  It had no sign on the door, so it wasn't until I bought something that I discovered this was Bhana Brothers, a family business that has existed for over 70 years now.

Apart from the handmade tortas de aceite (Sevillian olive oil wafers) which Anna from Eats By Anna had raved about, and other upmarket products like Clevedon buffalo cheese, this shop has fruit I haven't seen for sale before, not even at my local Nosh Food Market.  I call them exotic for this reason, though plenty of New Zealand families have figs and cape gooseberries (I first knew of them as "physalis") growing in their (grandma's) backyards.  Presumably figs aren't often sold because they don't transport or keep well, and I had never come across the very sweet and green little spheres called greengages before.

Greengages, fresh fig and cape gooseberries from Bhana Brothers.
Other fruits on the shelf which I was impressed to see, but less excited by, included pomelos, kiwiberries and horned melons (or kiwanos), as well as fresh blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.  Not your average dairy, that's for sure!

[Added 3 March 2012: Found cape gooseberries and greengages slightly cheaper at a grocer called Kumeu Produce Market (407 State Highway 16, Kuneu) as well today.]

Bhana Brothers
129 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby
(09) 376 5329
Mondays to Sundays 8am - 7p

Nettle Goats Cheese @ Crescent Dairy Goats

Someone told me about a little farm not far from central Auckland, where they make their own goats cheese, so I naturally had to check it out.  To get to Crescent Dairy Goats, you basically drive to the end of the Northwestern motorway and turn left before you get to Taupaki (turn off before Kumeu).  From there, it's pretty well signposted.

The softest cheese they had at this time of the year, which they called "Flat White", was delicious, creamy and mild.  They have a whole range of goats cheeses, including blue cheese, and I chose to try their "Farmhouse Sting" next, so named because the cheese is marbled with nettle leaves, which is apparently safe to eat in the cheese, though you shouldn't go around munching on fresh nettle.

Two of many varieties of goats cheese for sale at Crescent Dairy Goats.
They offer a tour of the farm for $15 (minimum of 10 people required), where you get to meet the goats, have a tour of the milking and cheese making areas, then sit down for a taste of at least ten of their cheeses with tasting notes and commentary from the cheesemaker.  I haven't got around to it yet, but I am definitely planning to round some people up for this!

Crescent Dairy Goats
177A Taupaki Road, Kumeu
(09) 412 2074
Mondays closed.
Tuesdays to Sundays 10am - 5pm

Molecular Gastronomy @ FISH

If you thought FISH was just a simple seafood restaurant, any such illusions are immediately dispelled when the waiter brings out ciabatta rolls with what looks like a pale green mousse on the side. This turns out to be a very soft and light spread made from olive oil emulsified overnight using the enzymes from some kind of tree sap.

From this beginning, the mouthful of brocolli soup served in a flat glass tube, or the oysters with balsamic and chilli sauce in eye droppers, or even the fish and chips with what looks like rice bubbles in the batter, should no longer be a surprise.

They really turned up the heat though, or cold, rather, when I ordered the nitro toffee & coffee mousse, which became a full scale performance.  A side table was set up so that we could see the swirling mist from the liquid nitrogen cooling a ball of mousse, injected with the filling before our eyes.  The outside of the ball solidified, while the inside was still gooey.

Preparing the nitro toffee & coffee mousse.
Mousse ball ripped apart.
Yes, it's gimmicky, but the flavours are right up there, and it's nice to try something like this at least once.

In related news, the first issue of the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science is out (you can download the electronic versions of the articles for free), and celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal has been asked to cook the first synthetic meat burger later this year.

Hilton Auckland, Princes Wharf, 147 Quay Street, Auckland Central
(09) 978 2020
Mondays to Saturdays 12 - 11pm
Sundays 12 - 10pm


  1. The filo tempura dish looks like the dish Cocoro offered at Taste last year:

    Gorgeous presentation there and I think that's the first time I've seen piko piko being offered in a restaurant. I wonder if they are foraged or grown to order?

    Coolnes on the molec-gastro stuff at Fish. What a treat! It's only gimmicky if you've seen it a million times before. I guess we have…on TV.

    Let me know if you need people to make up numbers for the cheese and farm tour. I would love to come.

  2. Great blog. I am from New Zealand and blog on restaurants amongst other things. You might be interested in this post about Market Kitchen and Bar in Newmarket Will enjoy following your blog.

  3. @bunnyeatsdesign: That filo tempura does look familiar, yes. :)

    I was wondering about the piko piko too. It seems to be farmed at but foraged by Both of these busineses are around Taupo/Rotorua; I have no idea where you can get this in Auckland.

    We're looking good for the farm tour (going this weekend), but I will let you know on the off chance we need you.

    @Carole: Great to see another enthusiastic blogger. Cheers!

  4. Mercer Cheese has been making a Dutch style nettle cheese for years. Very delicious.

    It's also worth noting that consuming stinging nettles cures virtually any ailment, particularly in women.

  5. Mercer is a bit further out of Auckland than I normally venture, but I shall check it out - thanks! I hope it keeps better than the Crescent Dairy Goats cheese, which went mouldy rather quickly, even the slice I bought which was left in a sealed plastic bag.


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