Inti; three ries­lings

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - Kim Knight

When the wait­per­son said some of the dishes were from the time of the con­quis­ta­dors, I smiled and nod­ded.

Later, I ate huit­la­coche and won­dered if he had been speak­ing lit­er­ally. Huit­la­coche is a kind of mould that grows on corn; it is some­times called “corn smut”.

On my plate, it was tiny, slimy, black bub­bles. On my palate? Bit­ter. Sooty. An­cient. I kept scoop­ing it up with shards of rice cracker, try­ing to find a flavour ref­er­ence. Corn, said James, def­i­nitely. Also mush­room. I wasn’t con­vinced. I was think­ing fer­mented tar, but then it would blend with a blob of lemon curd and a crunchy raw yam and be­come some­thing else.

The huit­la­coche was a $28 co­nun­drum at a restau­rant that in­fuses the word “in­ter­est­ing” with ground crick­ets and let­tuce juice. Sure, you can get a sand­wich — but it’s stuffed with al­paca and comes with chloro­phylled onion petals gone Ir­ish green.

Inti has been set up in the space that was the short­lived Meat, Fish, Wine. They’ve swapped the David Brom­ley nude for Aztec street art by Flox and there’s less gleam­ing glass and more earth­en­ware pot­tery. The ridicu­lous sheep trough of a hand­basin re­mains, and so does the wine col­lec­tion. The food is rea­son­ably priced, but the plonk may dent your credit card.

The chef is Javier Car­mona, most re­cently of the Avon­dale-fringe pop-up Etxe­ber­ria. My Kitchen Rules judge Manu Feildel ate there while film­ing and posted to his In­sta­gram: “Great food us­ing un­usual in­gre­di­ents and com­bi­na­tions of flavours!!!” It’s a sum­mary that equally be­fits Inti. No one in Auck­land is do­ing this kind of food. Con­sider the cac­tus gua­camole, which in­cluded sea­weed, al­mond and epa­zote, a minty, pine-like herb. Oh, and it came with a deep-fried av­o­cado leaf. Step away from the smashed toast et al and en­joy a crispy in­hala­tion of gar­den dust on a hot day — all this in­ter­est­ing­ness for just $16.

The salsa ($14) was a short ed­u­ca­tion in South Amer­i­can carb-load­ing. The tor­tilla was rus­tic and chewy, the puffy panu­cho was made with cricket flour (but tasted of parme­san) and the con­cha was a rev­e­la­tion — a milky en­riched wheat dough with a sweet crust; brioche for peo­ple who don’t like brioche. Later that week­end I read that, by some es­ti­mates, Mex­ico pro­duces 2000 unique va­ri­eties of sweet breads. Break­fast in Mex­ico must be amaz­ing.

I barely know where to start with the rest of the menu. My cir­cle of black pud­ding ($16) was spec­tac­u­larly hid­den un­der a con­cen­tric pat­tern of pale pink wa­ter­melon radish, onion flow­ers and black ants — im­ported from Thai­land — that were (I swear) slightly cit­rus in flavour and a gen­tle con­trast to the earthy disc of blood sausage.

The al­paca ($22) was rem­i­nis­cent of a sloppy joe, once the thin jus had been poured, ta­ble­side, over the crusty baguette. “Green” chorizo ($19) was hid­den un­der piles of lemony wood sor­rel and com­bined with a 65 de­gree egg to soften the tang.

Hon­estly? When the most or­di­nary dish of the night was lamb with beeswax and fuschia flow­ers ($32) you should prob­a­bly just stop read­ing and book a ta­ble.

Inti’s pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial in­cludes a post­card of its take on ce­viche ($24). It ar­rived look­ing like a sur­real squid — al­ter­nat­ing ar­rows of trevally and salted, dried tamar­illo, trail­ing in the wake of a pool of red cab­bage-in­fused “tiger’s milk” sauce. It was the most vis­ually stun­ning dish of the night, though the fish lacked the silken bite I usu­ally as­so­ciate with trevally.

Dessert was a small miss and a very big hit. Soupy, sweet goat’s milk crema cata­lana ($16) was only marginally saved by pops of bar­ley, but the vanilla queso ($15) was in­cred­i­ble. Imag­ine cream cheese ic­ing un­der sweetly acidic slices of pineap­ple buried in a pile of lemon ver­bena in­fused cu­cum­ber granita.

Inti is named for the In­can sun god. If there is a bet­ter dessert with which to wel­come the Auck­land sum­mer, let me know.

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