Monday, April 2, 2012

Review: Cocoro

Do you have a bucket list of things to eat?  We've only had dinner at Cocoro twice, and it's already crossed two items off ours (freshly grated wasabi root and restaurant-cooked wagyu beef).  It's also given us an opportunity to try things we had not even considered (such as the piko piko and "mountain caviar" in my previous post), as well as other delicious dishes (high quality seafood and noodles, including the fatty cut of toro).

A 50kg 100% farmed sustainable Bluefin tuna, flown in from Japan.
Tucked away into a quiet little side street off Ponsonby Road, we would probably never have found this "new style Japanese" restaurant, had it not immediately gained fame by winning the Best Specialist Restaurant award in Cuisine NZ Restaurant of The Year 2011 (it has also just been announced today as being on the Metro/Audi Restaurant of the Year Top 50 list for2012, though we don't agree with everything on the list).  This little space was not as full as it deserves to be when we turned up one weeknight, and we wondered if it was because you cannot book unless you are planning to have the degustation.

The degustation menu changes regularly, and is great value at $80 for 6 courses (far too much food, especially if you go for the optional soba course).  It's definitely a good choice for that special ocassion, not just for the variety of highlights, but also because of the delightful presentation of the dishes.  However, it also leaves you too full to try anything off the specials menu, which we just had to come back for.

We were happy to see seasonal ingredients being offered.  The man at Depot was right: Bluff oysters are not as delicate as Tio Point oysters, but we enjoyed eating them all the same.  We also had fresh bamboo shoots, which we have not seen at a restaurant before, and they were tender and flavourful.

New season bluff oysters.

Charcoal-grilled new season bamboo shoots.
The pleasure of eating beautiful fish with freshly grated wasabi root does not come cheap, but we have been meaning to try this ever since discovering that most "wasabi" served with your sushi is actually horseradish and mustard with green food colouring.  Real wasabi definitely has a distinctive taste, what you could call lighter and sweeter than its cheaper substitute.  You have to grate it at the table, because it loses flavour in 15 minutes.

Farmed bluefin tuna - akami and toro sashimi with fresh wasabi root.
Contrary to what we've read about cooking wagyu at least medium to ensure the fat in the meat fully melts, the wagyu at Cocoro still looked well pink inside, though it arrived on a sizzling plate at the table, on a bed of
at least five different kinds of marinated fungi, including snow fungus, shiitake mushrooms, enokitake or golden needles mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and white button mushrooms.

Charcoal finished premium grain-fed wagyu, with at least five different types of fungi.
While special dishes like these can seem pricey, they are justified by the gourmet ingredients, and other items on the menu seem downright inexpensive.  The noodle side dishes are only $6 or $7. We particularly liked the udon, though the cold soba noodles were also nice.

A side of soba, with soup for dipping.  Large sushi platter in the background.
The desserts were delicious and very reasonably priced as well.  We had the black sesame creme brulee and were surprised you could actually taste the sesame flavour in it.  This came with a shortbread biscuit and a selection of fruit for only $7.

Black sesame creme brulee, with a sesame shortbread and fresh fruit.
You can certainly spend a lot of money at Cocoro if you want to, but you will be guaranteed a great experience, with unique dishes, expert kitchen creations, and attentive service.  Oh, and they even give you a hot handtowel and bowl of lotus root chips to begin.  No need to book, just turn up and you can choose off all the menus.

Panda Recommends

The degustation is great for a special ocassion, but we like to pick and choose.  We prefer the more traditional dishes than the more fusion ones.

Small Plates: Charcoal grilled new season bamboo shoots ($12), Farmed blue fin tuna sushi or sashimi ($8-$10/piece)
Sides: Udon warm broth noodles ($6), "Zaru soba" chilled buckwheat noodles ($7), South Island fresh wasabi ($4)

Vegie Pandas
The shiki-tofu (made using water from Mount Fuji) is delicious and silky smooth.  They will also make a vegetarian version of the chawanmushi.  In fact, you can have a whole degustation's worth of vegie dishes.  Just advise the chef not to use fish stock, as this is one ingredient that often makes visibly vegetarian dishes non-vegetarian.

Restaurant Details

56a Brown Street, Ponsonby, Auckland
(09) 360 0927

Opening hours:
Tuesdays to Saturdays 12 - 2pm, 5:30 - 10pm

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