Eating Out: Kinji no longer a 'secret jewel'
Perhaps once you could have described Kinji as a secret jewel in the distinctly understated cluster of shops around the Greers Rd and Wairakei Rd intersection. But no longer.
It still looks humble enough but the path to Kinji's door is now well trodden. Fans rediscovered it quickly after it was bumped from the CBD by the earthquake, and having been recently named as one of the city's top 10 restaurants for 2013 in The Press Zest Food Awards, the word is definitely out.
We booked for a Friday night. Yes, we could come at 6pm, we were told, but could we leave by 7.30pm? We agreed, of course. But it is funny how quickly relief at getting in somehow segues into a prickle of annoyance at being rushed. How easily we forget being among the unbooked.
Greers Rd looked done for the day, but Kinji was already packed at 6pm, and service was in full flight. The staff are friendly and efficient and the little basket to hold bags under the table is a nice touch.
But obviously the pressure is on. Wait staff were flying from table to table, to and from the serving counter in the effort to get two covers per table through.
The menu fits on two A4 pages. It follows a safe path into the world of Japanese cuisine. There is nothing too fancy, leaving Kinji to rely heavily on doing the basics perfectly and the quality of ingredients. Given that seafood is the main draw and much of it is raw, there's nowhere to hide.
My plate of tuna sashimi passed the test flawlessly. Ten glistening slices of ruby-red tuna served with soy sauce, an eye-watering wasabi paste (showing how watered down the food court stuff is) and a salad was beautiful. It was the highlight of the evening, which seems a little unfair because all they did was choose the fish and slice it. But then it is only at a place like Kinji that you can get a simple dish like this done this well.
A plate of warm edamame (soy) bean pods, lightly salted, were fun to twist and squeeze to pop the creamy green beans into your mouth.
We skipped the sushi options, rolled and nigiri style - they seemed too close to the weekday lunch run - and instead plucked KFC and scallops from the mains.
Kinji Fried Chicken has morsels of thigh meat, marinated in garlic and soy and deep fried. Again, it is simple, but the meat has a lovely flavour, crisp and tender. The touch is light and the result surprisingly satisfying. This is how fried chicken should be - all meat and flavour, not skin and coating..
The scallops came in a creamy sauce. The presentation was blandly beige, but the flavours were good. With the scallops came plump whole-roasted garlic cloves and quartered mushrooms. And what a treat to get scallops with the coral still attached.
Kinji is BYO - where did you last see that? - but you can also get wine, excellent Japanese beer and very nice sake. I had a cold Sapporo and a hot sake (Ooita - a dry pure rice wine and, oddly, the only rice I had all evening) and both were great food matches.
We had also ordered tempura vegetables. They arrived long after everything else was eaten and came with an apology. They were crisp and hot and crunchy, all those good things, but an after-thought of a busy kitchen.
Only two desserts are offered, a green tea tiramisu, which I have had before and did not particularly like because green tea is a poor replacement for coffee, and a creme brulee. But it was 7.30pm and our time was up so the brulee had to wait for another day.
Where: 279B Greers Rd
359 4697, kinjirestaurant.com
When:Open: Dinner Mon-Sat, 5.30pm to 10pm Cost: starters $6, teppan meals $32-$36, sushi $12-$18, mains $16-$18, desserts $10
Upside: Fresh seafood
Downside: Rush rush
Go again: Definitely