PICKLE EATING HOUSE & BAR
Corner Majoribanks St & Kent Terrace
Ph: 385 7698
Wine list: 3/5
Price range of mains: $15-$19
Cost: $79 for two (excluding wine)
On the face of it, Pickle Eating House & Bar is a celebration of Kiwiana.
Certainly the iconography of the fit-out would suggest this: fronting the bar are photographic murals of New Zealand rainforest, while in a corner stands a dried thicket of the real thing, from which a leaf fluttered down into my (thankfully empty) wine glass.
From the ceiling hang a mass of empty pickle jars, some forming lampshades while, on the shelves, more jars hold specimen flowers from Nana's garden. A row of preserves, contained in Nana's classic Agee jars, stand like historical artefacts above the kitchen pass.
Yet curiously at odds with these comforting images are the unsettling dishes emanating from that pass.
"Spiced popcorn, strawberry, beans and parmesan" would freak out anybody's nana.
"Dark chocolate and duck liver lollipop" scared even me, especially after my recent experience of duck liver parfait as the filling for a sugary macaroon.
Apparently this combo stems from French pastry chef Pierre Herme himself, an extension perhaps of serving treacly sweet Chateau d'Yquem with foie gras.
Still not convinced? Neither was I: what promised to be disgusting, was disgusting.
But I'm always a taker for Nana's brawn, described on Pickle's menu as "pig's head salad".
Chef Asher Boote has spent time in Scandinavia, and a sour, vinegary (dare I say picklish) thread runs through much of his repertoire - including a good dousing of lemon juice to cut the richness of these unmentionable but delicious slices of pig, served over rocket leaves deliberately over-dressed with soy and apple juice.
We also enjoyed the tiny cubes of pickled rhubarb with the cold clams and chicken wings (even if that dish did seem like a meeting of strangers).
Owner Bryce Mason tells me the inspiration for Pickle stems partly from Al Brown at The Depot in Auckland.
Hence the sliders on this menu. "Slider" is American for "miniaturised burger", here served as a trio for $10; there's no complaining about these prices.
We tried a trio of trios: the kingfish I found a bit stinky, but we devoured both the duck (smoked, confit, parfait and beetroot) and the pulled pork, coriander and pickled slaw.
As for our "dog", that too, excelled in the pickles department. Pork and beef sausages from Strathmore Butchery came in a hotdog bun with Wattie's tomato sauce, crisp onions and truly delicious Bostongurka, a Swedish relish with pickled cucumber, red capsicum and mustard seeds.
Our waitron, a blonde Aryan goddess who might herself have been Swedish, was on hand, very helpfully, to explain every last detail of this arcane menu.
Ash salt, she explained, was not volcanic ash salt but some sort of confection based on dried leek.
"Miso braised eggplant, tomato jam, tofu" sounded nice, but the eggplant was undercooked and lacked miso flavour.
Desserts here are tiny. Costing only $3 or $4 apiece, the idea is that you order several and pick'n'mix. Their presentation continued the pastoral theme: creme brulee came inside an eggshell with a charred rim, resting in a tiny nest of wood shavings; pine and rosemary set cream was wreathed with a bough of douglas fir.
We loved the strawberry jelly, given a miraculously powerful lemon meringue flavour with just a few dots over its surface, and were also taken with a dark chocolate bar, wrapped in paper bearing the restaurant's logo, and filled with caramel spiked with fennel seeds. After duck liver, that filling seemed almost fuddy-duddy.
ONE THING YOU SHOULD TRY
Lamb ribs, carrot and coriander
This dish truly is from Nana's kitchen, in that the lamb ribs are fairly big, indicating they are well on the way to being hogget, with all the extra muttony savour that implies. The ribs are a bit fatty and naughty, but just the thing to gnaw off the bones (this is the sort of place where you would feel sufficiently relaxed to do so). Even naughtier is all the melted butter that makes the accompanying carrot puree so rich and sweet, with julienned raw carrot and coriander to perk things up.
- The Dominion Post