Kappa still serving top dishes
Kappa is the longest established Japanese restaurant in Queenstown and with lots of competition from new kids on the block I thought it was worth checking out. The first impression is that its very unQueenstown. No concession to decor nor attempt at creating an atmosphere. None of the staff, including the chefs seen in the open kitchen, looked to be under 30 yet it felt like a retirement home.
For entrees we had Edemame ($5) and Tempura Blue Cod ($15). Any selfrespecting Japanese chef would horrified to screw up edemame – boiled, salted, immature soybeans, served in the pod – and the chef here presented this humble, but quite exacting dish in excellent style. The cod’s tempura batter was infused with nori, tiny flakes of dried seaweed before being fried. This was so delicious I asked the waiter how to do it and this recipe will now be on repeat at my place. For mains we went for the set menu, a staple of Japanese dining that doesn’t really offer anything new but can vary so wildly in quality it’s always an interesting gamble. Ames’ course included teriyaki chicken, tempura vege, agedashi tofu and sashimi ($35). My dinner box ($28) had karange pork, sushi, sashimi and chicken. Both mains were huge and tasty. Little touches like the dollop of komatsuna (Japanese mustard, which doesn’t usually come as standard in New Zealand) went a long way to making this an outstanding meal. There was no dessert menu and no room left for sweets anyway, underlining the fact that Kappa concentrates on a small menu and does it extremely well with no concession given to non-essential extras.
The service was nice and very courteous in the distinctly Japanese manner but there was a total lack of personality.
There was a table of about 20 dining at the same time as us. The group comprised some Queenstown people and some visitors they looked to be entertaining. Kappa would be perfect for small or large groups but be prepared to bring your own sense of atmosphere and fun.
The food is far better than any set dinner Japanese restaurant I’ve been to in Queenstown. But the lack of atmosphere lets it down. This could easily be fixed with a bit of effort from the staff, who have maybe just come to rest on their laurels of being a long-established eatery in a town renowned for its quick turnover of anything not up to par. A personality injection, a bit of customer/staff interaction, throwing on some interesting tunes and giving the decor a slight tweak would all go a long way to making Kappa a cosy, cool but still no-frills excellent dining experience.
Ambience absent: Dinner at Kappa, upstairs in Queenstown’s Mall last week: Great food but bring your own sense of atmosphere.