Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Land of the Rising Star - Cocoro - Restaurant Review

Recently Metro held it's annual review of the Top 50 Auckland Restaurants. The awards are designed as a show and tell of the best cuisine that New Zealand's largest city has to offer. Often the list contains the evergreen enterprises. Those restaurants that have always been the stand out performers, such as The French Cafe and The Grove. Now and again the list will also contain a new, rising star.

Hard at work in a well designed kitchen
This year's new star was Cocoro, a recent addition to the Ponsonby dining scene. Luckily for them the awards were held in Auckland, otherwise they may have needed to pay for excess baggage on the flight home. Overall the restaurant walked away with 3 Top Honors. Two for the Restaurant and one for the Chef/Owner, Makoto Tokuyama, who was awarded Restaurant Personality of the Year.

Cocoro describes itself as New Japanese Cuisine. It's a cuisine that has come a long way in the last five years. Tokyo now places itself as one of the culinary meccas of the world, with more Michelin star kitchens than Paris. Of course this is helped by the sheer monstrosity of the mega metropolis and the incredible wealth that is there but none-the-less there has been a definite advance in the appreciation of the skills, the application, and the flavors that top Japanese chefs are now bringing towards the concept of modern cuisine.

The popularity of Fusion cuisine in decades past allowed the introduction of the flavors of Japan onto the western palate. Ingredients such as Miso, Yuzu, Sake, Mirin and Black Sesame all became identifiable with your standard diner. Japanese cuisine has now gone past that idea of fusion and it is starting to demonstrate it's true reportoire.  Cocoro goes a long way to proving that there is more than Chicken Teriyaki and California Rolls on offer.

The restaurant is a very stylish room. A small number of well positioned tables line each side of the restaurant while an impressively imposing Makrakapa table, large enough for 20, adorns the middle. Slat walls and minimal decorations create a precisely relaxed feel. Whish is appropriate to the dining style on offer, exact but enjoyable. We have little hesitation in choosing the degustation menu. With six courses priced at $80 it has to be one of the best value degusations on offer in Auckland.

The first course comes served in a persimmon. Snapper marinated with a Yuzu-Miso sauce and combined with the persimmon to give a delightfully sweet dish. The snapper, being cooked by the marinade only, is delicate on the tongue and works wonderfully with the sweet persimmon and the sour sauce. We're off to a good start.

The next course typifies the joy that Cocoro can deliver.  And it's one of those moments that you can have only once.  *Spoiler Alert*  The waiter brings out four tower style boxes, which he cheekily calls our mystery box, every Masterchef contestants most hated of words.  The top is lifted to reveal a Te Matuku Bay Oyster delicately decorated with Ponzu Vinegar, Ginger and Chive.  It is presented as if it is on a throne and gives a great sense of theatrics to the meal.  Th tower is then folded open to reveal two hidden layers with further treats.  Akaroa Salmon Sashimi of the highest quality and a Bluefin Tuna Nigri which earns it's place as the best single piece of Sushi I have ever eaten.

But wait.....there's more

The Mystery Box revealed.

The fish course has a pan fried fillet of Warehou served on Tempura battered Eggplant with a sweet Yuzu-Miso Sauce. The fish is slightly overcooked and the eggplant comes in rather large pieces, resulting in a mushy texture, rather than that wonderful crispness you expect when you see the word Tempura. The sauce however is divine.

Our main course is a duck confit which has been slow cooked at 60 deg C in duck fat and then finished on a charcoal grill. The slow cooking results in melt in your mouth meat and the charcoal flavor of the crispy skin is a delightful touch. It is served beautifully with two types of fig along with two contrasting sauces. A sweet Nori sauce and a salty Miso and Sesame sauce. It's a great marriage of flavors and my only regret is that it has disappeared in six exuberant mouthfuls.

Decorated Duck

We are then offered an extra course of Buckwheat noodles in a Miso broth. We are perhaps a bit keen in getting this as already we are filling up and the idea of what is essentially a lunch sized noodle soup after already consuming five courses was perhaps due to us not wanting to miss out on anything exciting, rather than needing more sustenance. For the record the dish is tasty, but it isn't exciting.

Dessert, which can always be a scary concept in an Asian restaurant, consists of a black sesame creme brûlée, that is the definition of fusion cuisine, a particularly refreshing green tea miso and vanilla ice cream and a valrhona chocolate fondue. I wind up creating my own ice cream sundae with the components and leaving some rather forgettable additions such as the chocolate and sweet bean cake.

To finish the adventure Chef Tokuyama himself comes to deliver a refreshing granita of plum wine, mandarin and mint which whisks away any thoughts of over consumed lethargy and leaves our palates clean and excited. As we tell him of our favorite parts of his menu it is obvious that he loves what he does and like all good chefs he has a real passion for the origin of the food and the quality that he puts on the plate. Our meal has been a classic demonstration of using quality ingredients, sourced with care, in an exciting and innovative way.

The service was exceptional and food was almost the same. We entered the room with two non sake drinkers and one who wouldn't eat raw fish or anything weird. We left as four people converted. Converted to Cocoro. If you like a bit of adventure in your food and appreciate good aesthetics then this is the place for you.


Ph:09 360 0927
56A Brown St, Ponsonby

Cost $100pp for degustation menus, Sake and Wine.

Food:  8/10 
Atmosphere: 8/10
Service: 10/10
Price: 8/10

Overall: 8/10  Essential Dining

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