RESTAU­RANT

Si­dart

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An old friend once told me that, when hitch­hik­ing, it is your job to be in­ter­est­ing. You must earn your place in that car. Wear de­odor­ant. Make glit­tery con­ver­sa­tion. I’ve never hitched (psy­chopaths, etc) but I ap­ply a sim­i­lar phi­los­o­phy to my din­ner com­pan­ions.

Si­dart’s $165 five-course de­gus­ta­tion with matched wines is, nat­u­rally, yum. But this col­umn re­quires me to file 700-plus words weekly. My dates must bring more than one syl­la­ble to the ta­ble.

Here, for ex­am­ple, is an ac­tual tran­script from my re­cent Si­dart ex­pe­ri­ence. I think we were eat­ing the beef short-rib with what I can only de­scribe as a pakora club sand­wich, when Sarah said: “This is amaz­ing, it’s so sub­tle, it’s spicy, but there is no ego, it’s not like some Ernest Hem­ing­way can you f***ing han­dle it, it’s — oh my God — HOW DO THEY RE­SIST THE EGO SPICE?”

Ladies and gen­tle­men, Sarah will be get­ting a sec­ond date.

Prob­a­bly I will take her to the French Cafe, be­cause who doesn’t want to know what chef Sid Sahrawat is do­ing with that place? But aren’t you also cu­ri­ous about his prom­ise of “pro­gres­sive In­dian cui­sine” at the restau­rant where he first be­came fa­mous?

Back in July, Sahrawat an­nounced Si­dart would con­tinue to show­case New Zealand pro­duce “but in a con­tem­po­rary In­dian for­mat that is a more for­mal and pre­cise ex­e­cu­tion of the cui­sine cur­rently of­fered at pop­u­lar sis­ter restau­rant, Cas­sia”.

I was du­bi­ous. But if Cas­sia was the pin­na­cle of mod­ern In­dian cui­sine in Auck­land, the new Si­dart rel­e­gates it to Base Camp (or at least some­where on the Hil­lary Step).

One of our five cour­ses com­bined slabs of raw king­fish with warm scampi cooked in a light pakora bat­ter, served on a glug of cul­tured cream with a disc of pick­led gin­ger sor­bet un­der a nas­tur­tium leaf that had been com­pressed in dill oil.

It took me longer to type that sen­tence than it did to eat the dish, but I will re­mem­ber how it tasted for the rest of my life. You might re­call your first shrimp cock­tail? Creamy-spicy-dis­tinctly-and-de­li­ciously- shell­fishy. Now imag­ine that shrimp cock­tail grew up and cured the com­mon cold and solved world poverty and re­versed cli­mate change. Yep. It was that good.

Ear­lier this year I gave the orig­i­nal Si­dart a per­fect score. I can’t quite go there this time, but it has noth­ing to do with the food. As Fran­cis Ba­con once philosophised, “There is no com­par­i­son be­tween that which is lost by not suc­ceed­ing and that which is lost by not try­ing.”

Last time, I had a stun­ning, unim­peded view of the Sky Tower and a wait­per­son who sparkled more than the wine. That was al­ways go­ing to be a very hard act to fol­low.

By the time you read this, the menu will have changed but I ex­pect your night will start like ours, with a se­ries of snacks that clearly sig­nal the new flavour di­rec­tion. Ours in­cluded a very sour smack of tamarind on a black rice crisp; silken trevally tartare in­side a (ge­nius alert) pa­nipuri and an eg­g­plant “cigar” so ex­tra­or­di­nary I’m re­luc­tant to ruin the sur­prise. (Okay — ka­sundi.)

To eat is to be ed­u­cated. Chet­ti­nad sauce? From a strand of In­dian cui­sine highly in­flu­enced by trade with South­east Asia — some chilli, but more black pep­per. Ours was de­liv­ered as a chunky pow­der (though I’m sure we de­tected the soft grit of co­conut) with a puree of cele­riac and chunky white fish. One com­plaint — it was served in a rel­a­tively deep bowl. Beau­ti­ful, but not con­ducive to a knife and fork dis­sec­tion.

I truly loved a duck breast dish. The pro­tein cut like but­ter and the chilli hit with a punch. Each course is small but there has been no at­tempt to dial back flavour. When I woke up at 3am, my mouth still tasted like I’d eaten In­dian — that blurred ad­dic­tive warmth that stays well past din­ner.

There was, of course, a cool down pe­riod. Pud­ding proper was a snowy pile of sweet­ness de­scribed as “car­rot, car­damom, cof­fee and white choco­late”. It was lovely, but I could have stopped at the honey and yuzu “pre-dessert”, in which hokey pokey-stud­ded ice­cream meets a swirl of cit­rus sor­bet. The lassi New Zealand didn’t know it was miss­ing? Bring on a sum­mer of In­dian pro­por­tions. Kim Knight

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