Zest Food Awards: best restaurant and cafe

Zest names best cafe and restaurant

KATE FRASER
Last updated 05:00 30/10/2013
Daniel Tobin

Kate Fraser visits Underground cafe Colombo, winner of best cafe in the Zest Food Awards.

Saggio Di Vino

Underground Cafe
Kirk Hargreaves Zoom
TOP SPOT: Underground Cafe is at The Colombo, an increasingly upmarket and popular Sydenham mall.

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Congratulations to the winners of the inaugural Zest Food Awards.

For the restaurant section our judging team noted culinary creativity, presentation, value for price, service, beverage lists, atmosphere and overall satisfaction.

Cafes had similar points to note with the inclusion of its coffee's flavour and presentation.

It is heartening to discover so many restaurants and cafes disregarding the difficulties of life and work in the current environment and providing good experiences for customers. Thank you.

UNDERGROUND, THE COLOMBO

359 Colombo St Sydenham, Christchurch

Open daily

Ph 943 7360

The buzz phrase among cafe aficionados this year seems to be "captures the mood of the moment". It is difficult to define that one in Christchurch given the mood of the city swings from light to dark at the drop of building but if we're referencing Underground at The Colombo I'd say definitions don't worry the owner or the staff of this business.

It is what is: good coffee - actually very good coffee, good food - very good food, an easy atmosphere, good service and a buzzy vibe.

It is clever in its layout with spaces that encompass the mall proper and streetside. It could be a counter cafe as in American diner but rather than patrons sitting at the serving counter, they are perched on stools at a high table centre stage .

There are set tables, and outdoor tables and in a pleasing-everybody kind of way the decor is a stylie mix of posh and industrial. There is a considerable coffee menu, a tea menu, a blackboard menu and a cabinet arrayed with food that looks as if a merchandiser has just swept through: Lots on display but artfully so.

The pastry selection includes fancy pies and savouries, there's a selection of stuffed breads generous platters of smart salads (Chef Abby Taylor even manages to make couscous salad taste good) and plenty of temptations in the sweet treat department.

So far so normal, so what makes this cafe a winner? Well, not only its food, its position in an ontrend shopping hangout, the care taken with orders, the swift and pleasant service, the unpretentious atmosphere, the contemporary take on cafe breakfasts, brunches, lunches and snacks, but its overall attitude.

Everything seems designed to please the customer not meet the needs of the operator. And did we mention the coffee? Great options.

SAGGIO DI VINO

178 Victoria Street

Ph 379 4006

Open daily

Owner Lisa Scholtz is excited about the white asparagus on tonight's menu. Business partner Yommie Pawelka is pleased with his recommended wine match (an Escarpment pinot gris) Chef Sebastian Koburg is planning a dish that will have scallops and crayfish partnering the asparagus.

This snapshot is the regular afternoon meeting of owners and chef at Saggio di vino. It is a picture of what makes a restaurant succeed. Every day the best seasonal ingredients are sourced; wines to match food are tasted; dishes of seeming simplicity but compelling flavours are devised.

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Saggio has settled into its new home in the Carlton Butchery building - so-called because the pre-quake building that was there from the 1930s once housed a butchery business.

The Carlton hotel is across the way and there is no talk of what once was. It is inevitably a new concrete box but there are large front windows, narrow wall windows, the engine rooms are out of sight and though the decor is seriously brown candle-light and a brightly lit bar soften the edges.

The wine list is huge. The beer list is limited. There is a proper cheese trolley. Dinner guests invariably out-number those at the bar. The floor staff numbers but three but service is swift. And knowledgeable.

The kitchen brigade of a head chef, sous chef, chef de partis, commis de cuisine and a kitchenhand are working behind the scene but the difference many hands make to good food presentation is noticeable. The plates are pretty but no details are overlooked. Serious stuff again.

Serious does not mean dour. Saggio is a bright star with a happy buzz. There could well be a fuss if certain items - for instance carpaccio of house cured salmon - was not always on the card but the menu reflects the seasons and changes are made as winter moves into spring moves into summer moves into autumn.

Above all Saggio di vino is consistent. Expect the best here. You won't be disappointed.

PEOPLE'S CHOICE AWARDS

The People's Choice awards were selected on the number of nominations the businesses received. They go to Costas Greek Taverna and Oddfellows Cafe.

Costas Greek Taverna and Ouzo bar, 478 Cranford St Redwood, Open daily, ph 355 3232

The Greek taverna and bar moved to Cranford St and a big welcome from customers old and new who appreciate its fun vibe, generous servings and signature souvlaki platters.

Oddfellows, 5 Disraeli St Addington, ph 377 6757, Open Mon-Sat

An old hall by the railway line has been cleverly jazzed up. Generous spaces, generous food Hummingbird coffee, and a blackboard menu that's become a signature piece.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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