Restaurant review: Cook 'N' With Gas, Christchurch
Cook 'N' With Gas to me feels a bit like a favourite winter coat. When you've dined at a place quite a few times it slips into the comforting, relaxed mode.
I'm sure the Gas crew (they love to shorten the name up) won't like being called an old coat. But believe me there's a decent compliment buried in that. When we are choosing a spot and someone says "how about Cook 'N' With Gas?" I automatically think, 'sure, that would work'.
Like all relationships there have been ups and downs. Bad dishes (a certain salmon tail), great dishes (a certain paris brest) are part of the memory mix. Always there has been enough fun and flavour to pull us back again. What mood are you in tonight, I wondered as we headed along Worcester St.
The Gas is still that crazy mix of quirky decoration and ye olde villa and ... what do you know, a new big print of Mr Bean as Mona Lisa has appeared on a distant wall. The table cloth is still a sheet of paper held in place with bulldog clips.The self-promotion of obscure awards - not the Zest Top 10 award I gave it in 2013 of course - remains on full throttle. The walls are covered in posters pushing booze brands. Even the slippery placemat is a laminated promo for a local winery.
"Beer - helping ugly people have sex since 1862!" says another poster. You can get away with that at the Gas, even though it claims it is fine dining. Laugh, but in fact it has genuine fine dining touches - like how the wine bottle is presented and poured at the table, how the crepes are flambeed at the table, and how we get an amuse bouche.
Our waiter is a longstanding staffer in jeans and sneakers who comes from "Rangas" and does an excellent job. We have a decent middle class chat about respective rates bills. He's busy working the tables and frequently has to nip off to tell tourists who come through the door clutching a city map that it's full if they haven't booked. We agree that a Harrington's Big John Special Reserve would go well with my steak and yorkshire pudding main.
The one service failure is waiting too long between dishes. But the yelling we hear each time the door to the kitchen opens is hilarious. We half expect a cleaver to come flying through. They are obviously under the pump.
Food-wise it's a good evening. A smoked eel soup features house-smoked conger eel blitzed into a stock. This is poured at the table into a bowl with a little vege pile, including fennel slices, and cream. It's a great, seasoned broth-soup.
Mains are pre-carved sirloin steak slices and a pre-chopped lamb rack. I thought the sirloin was the best although a shame the little yorkshire pudding had tomato dumped all over it. I really only wanted beef, lots of gravy and the pudding to mop it up with. It also had a proper tangy, bearnaise sauce and an intriguing potato gratin with corn beef layers with the spud. It worked. I just wanted more gravy.
This gratin was easily better than a garlicky but quite dry parsnip rosti with the lamb. It also a great jus, but again even more would have been better. However, it's a good sign when you want more from the cooks.
Crepes à la Gas was our dessert - a must-have for my wife at this restaurant. You get the pageantry of Mandarine Napoleon poured over the crepes and set alight, then the crepes and the sauce are silver-spooned on to the plate where, cream, ice cream and candied orange await.
"Don't worry, I've never burned anyone twice," said the waiter as we waited for blue flames to fade.
We left happy, if later than expected. The gas flame on the pedestal outside was sizzling in the light rain. Long may it continue to do so.
AT A GLANCE
Cook 'n With Gas
23 Worcester Boulevard, CBD
Open: Mon-Sat from 6pm
Price range: Starters up to $17; mains up to $38; desserts up to $16
Cost: $111 for two (excluding drinks)
Wine list ★★★