Review: Apero wine bar, K Rd
Apero's offering, while common overseas, is unusual in New Zealand, making it something of an enigma.
While "wine bar" initially seems an appropriate descriptor for it, the strong focus on food means it doesn't quite hit the mark.
At the same time, Apero doesn't fit comfortably into the mould of what many consider a "real" restaurant.
What Apero is, however, is a highly appealing sum of two critical and equally strong elements: an exceptional wine list curated by the knowledgeable Ismo Koski (ex-maitre d' at Sidart and Merediths) and an innovative, well-executed menu delivered by his partner and chef Leslie Hottiaux (ex-sous chef at The Grove and Baduzzi).
Tucked away on an unprepossessing part of K Rd, Apero has an almost rustic living room feel to it.
There's an intimacy and quiet order inside that results in a fascinating contrast with the much less predictable passing pedestrian traffic. It is strongly tempting to vie for one of the few window seats and let loose the inner voyeur.
But that would be a waste because key to the appreciation of Apero is the personal engagement with Koski, who guides you effortlessly and without any hint of condescension through the extensive and eclectic wine list, enticing with suggestions of interesting offerings from throughout the winemaking world.
Once you're captured, have glass in hand and are happy to surrender all decision-making, he reveals the food card.
"How about a portion of bread to quell those hunger pangs," he throws in casually. "Why not?" we say. Then comes the temptation of "a few smoked almonds and warm olives". "Bring it on," we say and soon we are captivated by his descriptions of food and eagerly anticipating his next wine suggestion.
His quietly deceptive nonchalance makes it almost impossible to say no. It verges on sensory manipulation.
It's not a huge menu and it's written in a sans-detail style clearly designed to allow as much flexibility for the kitchen as possible.
The promised bread in a bag (baked by La Voie Francaise) was warm, fresh and delicious, accompanied by salted Lewis Road Creamery butter.
A request for a little oil for dipping was no trouble and quick as a wink a dish of Italian extra virgin olive oil appeared. The delicate goat's cheese croquettes coated in almond flakes and a splash of Kamahi honey were tiny, gorgeous and expensive.
But any quibbles over their price were quickly forgotten as the generous charcuterie platter arrived – a regularly changing feast of housemade terrines, high-quality preserved meats and piquant preserves and pickles.
The bowl of tuatuas steamed in cider, one of two seafood dishes on offer, made the mouth water and demanded a new wine to match. The delicate trevally ceviche, with tiny balls of pickled cucumber and a sprinkling of fried shallots, was equally outstanding.
A house specialty is the sausage, which, with suitably K Rd quirkiness, you order by length. The texture is expert and there's plenty of flavour, but for me it was just edged out by the terrine, which was perfectly balanced with a fantastic meatiness enhanced by subtle seasoning.
The dessert choice is, like the rest of the menu, short, but there's enough to whet the appetite. We opted for a roast apricot and Collet Champagne souffle which was perfectly risen and accompanied by a delicious praline ice cream.
Like the other dishes we sampled, it demonstrated a carefully considered but playful hand in the kitchen, resulting in a delightful combination of hot and cold, sweet and bitter.
This menu is an ever-changing feast, but the standard is clearly set and it's set high. When placed in the context of Koski's wine service, the food shines even more brightly.
Together they provide a veritable feast of expertise, execution and excitement.Whether you're stopping by for a glass of wine and a quick snack or settling in for a more extensive meal, Apero knows just how to press the right buttons.
280 Karangahape Rd, Auckland
09-373 4778, apero.co.nz
Wed-Mon from 4pm, Lunch Fri
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