Restaurant review: Origami
23 Kent Terrace
ph: 385 1354
No liquor licence
Open Sun-Thur 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-9.30pm
Price range of mains: $12-$18
Wine list: n/a
Cost: $44 for two (excluding tea)
With more than 30 Japanese food outlets now operating in central Wellington, sushi must be seriously challenging sandwiches and filled rolls as the office worker's lunch of choice.
As immigrant restaurateurs from China, Korea and Southeast Asia identify Japanese as a fashion trend, more and more sushi shops are opening, with all the cut-throat competition, price wars and cut corners that implies.
The main cluster is centred upon the CBD, so with no competition in the immediate vicinity, Origami becomes the first Japanese on Kent Terrace.
Origami's menu format seems distinctly old school Cantonese. They aim for the scattergun approach, seeking to satisfy every palate with 90 dishes - and appear to pull it off.
Presentation, all important for Japanese cuisine, is up to standard: the nori band over our avocado sushi was perfectly geometrical, even if the rice underneath was dry at the edges and overly solid from being too tightly squeezed.
Our egg roll sushi was neatly cut too, albeit coloured an unfortunate shade of khaki.
For anybody concerned with authenticity, the photograph of miso ramen on page 14 is revealing. Eggs are traditionally served over ramen in Japan, but always half-boiled, so the yolk can ooze out and finish cooking in the hot broth. Yet Origami's own photo reveals hard-boiled egg yolk - powdery, chokingly dry and best forgotten.
The photo also depicts julienned carrot and bok choy where there should be mushrooms, seaweed, onion and sprouts.
We also passed on the tom yum ramen.
Perhaps you might try to excuse this sorry mix by pointing to the mission statement on page one of the menu, which uses the phrases ''inspired by Japanese cuisine'' and ''our variety of fusion food selection''.
But I would rather have had a bowl of authentic dashi stock with my tempura udon, even though the chicken broth it came with would have satisfied a wider cross-section of New Zealanders.
As to the prawn tempura, the batter fulfilled every visual requirement for knobbiness, but crispness gave way to doughiness within.
The chef was having an even worse day with the gyoza - pan-fried vegetable dumplings: over-cooked, mushy, sulphuric cabbage lay inside stressed, soggy skins that looked and tasted as if they'd emerged from extended curing at a tannery.
Apart from a portion of good beef teriyaki, Bento Set D wasn't much better: more of the unfortunate gyoza, plus mushy, bland potato salad made with floury potatoes (when waxy are currently in season) and takoyaki (chopped octopus in batter) which tasted completely anonymous. My guest didn't even know the rubbery lumps were octopus until I mentioned it.
Of course, there are many who would disagree with these observations, particularly as Origami's portions are generous and nothing costs more than $18.
This emphasis on low price turns the service into a weirdly convoluted exercise, not unlike origami.
There's a huge sign as you come in: ''Please order and pay at the counter''. Yet there is no cafe counter, just a front desk downstairs in the foyer.
As I explained earlier, the menu is a 17-page encyclopaedia, so naturally you want to take it upstairs to peruse at your leisure at your table, after which you must trot downstairs, place your order and then troop back upstairs with your flag, just like a mumsy cafe.
Come to think of it, there's a distinct element of playschool about Origami - from its boxy raw wooden banquettes and padded Astroturf walls to the cute origami hippo that forms the front desk.
Nursery decor for naive palates.
How deliciously apt.
ONE THING YOU SHOULD TRY
M1 Teriyaki Set
In the unlikely event I'd return to fold myself into still more knots over Origami, I'd order M1 Teriyaki Set, specifying the beef over chicken or pork. I didn't actually order this set myself, but I did taste the beef teriyaki as a component of the otherwise flawed Bento Set D. I'm happy to report it was deliciously juicy, tasty and medium rare, with just the right amount of soy and mirin.
The Dominion Post