On a Sunday lunchtime there is plenty of seating options. We decide on a high-stooled table downstairs where we can watch the open kitchen.
Ecletic is the only way to describe the decor. "Most of it came from my business partner's home," new manager and co-owner Amanda says. There is a large Charlie McPhee black-velvet painting, ceiling lights hang in metal drums and there are odd bits of odd statuary.
Share plates make up much of the menu and I ask if there are other similarities to Al Brown's successful Depot. "Not at all," Amanda says, "you wait till you see the food."
First up are crispy wings - six chicken wings fried in buttermilk batter, rolled in five spices and served with a roasted chilli jam in a mess tin. They are delicious but there are no surprises. Not so for everything else.
Next up is fish pie, minus the pie. A piece of timber is topped with three small - touch your middle finger to your thumb - halves of baked potato filled with smoked and sauced John Dory and topped with chives, lemon and a potato puree the chef calls spuma - aerated but not a foam. We love the pies and a wet fingertip dipped into the surrounded green crumbs finds the peas. Queries have surfaced over the pielessness but some people should just get over themselves.
Our third plate is soy-glazed pig's cheek. Two pieces sit on a sweet carrot puree with celeriac and bok choy and decorations of shiitake gel and pieces of puff that look like prawn crackers but are done-unto pig skin. The meat has been braised for 12 hours and truly does melt in the mouth. I realise that, at each first bite, I am stopping to take in the flavours and textures.
I am now getting totally carried away. Desserts are ordered. An apple custard baked brulee and flavours of Milo. The Milo is in a tin cup in a mess tin that holds two warm, cinnamon-and-sugared churros. Amanda advises taking the spoon to the bottom of the cup and collecting on the way up. What I get is milk sorbet with coconut snow, malt and gingernut crumbs. Wow. The apple is the dessert equivalent of the fish pie. It is cold, deconstructed and fabulous. Caramel-poached apple, dried apple, freeze-dried blueberry halves, baked vanilla custard apple sorbet and slices of oat crumble.
Coffees come with freshly made passionfruit marshmallows which send salivary glands into overdrive.
There are reports that evenings at Tin Soldier have the same acoustic problems that plagued previous occupants. Hopefully, Tin Soldier beats it and does not melt away.
WHERE: 151 Ponsonby Rd, corner of Anglesea St, ph 09 378 1719.
WHEN: Tuesday to Wednesday, 4pm-1am; Thursday to Sunday, 11.30am-1am.
WHAT'S TO EAT: Wonderful-looking and tasting food.
HOW MUCH: $104.50 for shared plates, two drinks and two coffees.
WHAT DO WE THINK: Can't wait to go back.
- Sunday Star Times