The only thing that bombs is the sake
Daruma is a Queenstown favourite recently mentioned in international publication Where Chefs Eat, and is known as much for its lively atmosphere, zany Japanese staff and infamous sake bombs as it is for its food. We kicked off with Edamame beans ($5.50), which are pretty hard to screw up, and the perfect opener. Next up was deep fried squid ($7) which was tender and crisp in all the right places. Next was a special of the day, deep fried eggplant with miso mince. Not being a fan of mince unless it’s in pie form with lots of melted cheese, this was a great discovery, and got me thinking I might have to get amiso paste, mince and egg plant reunion going at home sometime soon. Next was a seafood trio of mostly great results. This started with deep fried scallops ($5.50), went to teriyaki prawns for ($6) and ended with kabayaki eel ($12). The scallops were great, the eel, which was imported from Japan, was interesting because it was so small and soggy – not like a classic Kiwi silver belly eel crisply panfried in butter. Still it was interesting, and worth a crack. However, the prawns, which are pretty easy to get right unless you under cook them, were served slightly under cooked. Next was a big crispy serve of kaarage chicken ($10). Again this is a dish that’s hard to fault when cooked right, and this one was perfect. In the last round of mains, we went for another special, shrimp cream croquette ($6). It was shrimpy and creamy with finely chopped garlic which came in a deep fried, crunchy shell. If this is on the day’s special list try it out. Rounding things off was icecream with a banana crepe ($5.50), and green tea icecream ($3.50), both of which were great. During the meal we drank small glasses of cloudy sake from 600ml flasks ($9). I rate the weirdly chalky taste and texture of cloudy sake as a top drinking experience, and was a bit gutted I had to drive that night.
Everyone gets a loud, enthusiastic ‘‘MoshiMoshi’’ (an informal Japanese greeting) on entering, and the chat from the waiters is amazing. They’re funny but highly professional and you really get the feeling providing great service is a real matter of pride for them. At times I was cracking up with our conversations of broken English. After making a particular mess of one dish, I was politely asked if I wanted a baby’s bib.
I would describe Daruma as cosy with some nice Japanese art. Overall good, but nothing amazing. What makes everything work is the atmosphere generated by the people working there, who are lively, zany and attentive. Match that with the smells and sounds of the kitchen, cloudy sake and the prospect of sake bombs (sake shots ‘depth charged’ into beer) and I call that a winner.
Cultural: Japanese Sake Bar Daruma on Shotover Street.