Review: The Monday Room, Christchurch
The welcome was interesting as we gratefully stepped off the side of four-lane Moorhouse Avenue in full end-of-day traffic flight and slipped into the cool (both ways), dim entrance at 6.30pm. Staff were gathered by the bar and had the distracted look you might see in fashion store counter staff when they have a mob outside, an 80 per cent off sale, and the doors are about to be thrown open.
There had been a little polite haggling the day before when booking. We needed 6.30pm, they preferred 6pm, we couldn't make it from work by then. A pause, then an upbeat "OK, we'll make 6.30pm work".
They probably should have said they were fully booked. But there in The Monday Room's open dining room at the rear was a table for two placed right alongside the stack of logs (decorative) and fire unneeded for summer. Two of the three other pre-booked tables under the open slatted roof were each set for 10 people, the other for 12 people.
After the briefest of pauses, the maitre'd asked in the nicest possible way if we could "expedite" our orders so we could "best enjoy the evening". A well-meant nod to get in well before the tables around us filled.
Fair enough. Happy to. Having been once before helped because we knew how to read the menu. Small plates means starters, medium plates are sides, large plates are proteins that need a side or two.
This latest version of The Monday Room was launched earlier last year when new management changed the look, revamped the food (no more yakitori), but kept the same name, which is apparently part of the building lease deal and relates to meetings that used to be held in that space on Mondays.
The food is now contemporary Euro but The Monday Room maintains a big focus on drinks. It has a solid wine list and a big cocktail list that includes five Bloody Mary variations renamed Bloody Mondays.
The dishes are designed for sharing. It worked fine for us who have shared for years, but I wondered how much fun it was for some in those big groups who were clearly meeting for the first time, then moments later were handing around a bowl of clams to take a few and some sauce and pass it on. Awkward.
But we were in good hands and the staff sailed us neatly through the big group storm. Two wine recommendations – a gorgeous Black Estate rosé to go with a beetroot mousse dish, and a fresh yet complicated Amisfield chenin blanc to handle pork and fish dishes, were thoughtful and successful.
The dishes themselves ranged from fresh and simple such as the buffalo burrata and heirloom cherry tomatoes to an out-of-left-field liquorice and blueberry dessert.
That starter could have been mozzarella and tomatoes, but the more unusual, juicy, creamy-centred burrata was used instead, though I think its oozing watered down the vincotto sauce too much.
Our beetroot mousse dish starred quenelles of dark pink beetroot mousse with a hot chilli influence nestled with dark brown pine nut butter, nicely seasoned quinoa on the plate. The house-made pine nut butter was a dramatic touch, a world beyond peanut butter.
A big, fat, nicely browned groper fillet was matched with the light aniseed flavours of a fennel puree, caperberries and more nuts again for texture, this time almonds. The fish was meaty and sweet enough to carry it off.
Pork came two ways in another meat main. A chunk of pull-apart, caramelised, intense meat was wonderful but a crumbed and fried "braised" version left our mouths covered in a fatty coating. We left half of it uneaten.
But it was among the desserts that the most out-there dish appeared. Apparently a Scandinavian chef on the team created Eeva's blueberry mousse. Black meringue (liquorice), dark purple mousse, black liquorice gel blobs, cinnamon crumb and ice cream together on a plate gave lots to think about, not the least the involuntary hmmm before you eat black food.
But it works. The crunch, the dark blueberry flavours that were accelerated into more edgy blackness with the liquorice and then the ice cream bringing it all back to sanity. It was like a scary fairground ride. I thought it fabulous.
On the whole, there is an enjoyable confidence and imagination to The Monday Room's dishes. They challenge you to think about what you are eating and whether it works for you.
Corner Moorhouse Ave and Madras St, City
03 377 5262, themondayroom.co.nz
Lunch Mon-Fri; brunch
Sat-Sun; dinner 7 days