Weekend Herald - Canvas
‘It was Saturday, so we just had everything’
The fish barely looked like food. A long, black burnish on a long timber board. A fillet of confidence. The least fussy and the most quintessentially “fish” fish I’ve eaten.
The blackboard menu said seared longline blue mackerel but it should also perhaps have listed heart and guts — the two attributes surely required of a chef with the bravery to send out Dinner As A Minimalist Sculpture.
Unadorned, barring a dollop of dill and “mustard chantilly” (piquant, creamy, perfect), the $22 mackerel that looked like a fossil dissolved into rich, moist and extremely edible flakes. Apero’s thing is to make the simple extraordinary. Where else is the signature dish a sausage?
Order that sausage by the quarter metre ($19). Then order at least another quarter metre more than you think you’ll need. It’s a chubby coil of juicy porkiness, handmade by chef-owner Leslie Hottiaux. During lockdown, you could buy it raw and cook it at home but let’s never speak of this again: everything tastes better when someone else has done the sizzling, the serving and also the dishwashing.
We’re sitting in a low-lit, narrow slip of a place; all brick-lined walls adorned with wood-backed menus and tables you can book. Karangahape Rd has been clogged with orange cones forever and tonight is no different. Persevere — it’s hard to find a car park (or an Uber drop-point) but increasingly harder to find bad food and wine on this strip.
Opened six years ago in a former tattoo parlour, Apero’s small menu leans heavily on Hottiaux’s French heritage. Partner in life and business Mo Koski pours the drinks to match. It’s casual and classy. You’ll wish you lived close enough to visit twice a week — a terrine on Wednesday, “something fish” on Friday. It was Saturday, so we just had everything.
There was nothing particularly wrong with half a roasted cauliflower smothered in almonds, goat’s curd and mint ($19), it just felt a bit same-old — the eggplant stack of its time. That said, it doesn’t get much more classic than mushrooms and garlic ($16) and we hoovered these up. How much better is New Zealand’s mushroom game now that shitake and oyster are as ubiquitous as button and portobello? This dish was a total textural joy.
I find it quite hard to resist a croquette. At Apero, a crunchy golden crumb oozes tangy goat’s cheese. I ate quite carelessly — so easy to wash down this sort of food with something white and dry — until I hit the drizzle of kamahi honey. Sweetly complicated, just about the perfect snack to take the edge off before embarking on dinner proper ($8 for two).
If you’ve previously considered cold pastry to be a custard square-only affair, then you need to try terrine “en croute” — here, it’s packed with proper chunks of poultry, little green studs of pistachio and so attractively framed ($19). Another “something fish” from the blackboard menu — diced trevally tartar, soft with avocado and sharp with citrussy ponzu. Raw fish is an Auckland restaurant staple but this treatment was a lovely shoulder-season change from summer’s chilli-coconut-repeat.
Two more from the specials list? Consider entrylevel offal via tortellini, stuffed with sweetbreads and soaked in mushroom and jus ($26) — the pasta was thin and silky, the filling savoury, delicate and not the least bit scary. I ordered pudding out of duty but the passionfruit souffle ($16) was life-changing. It occurs to me I have never eaten a hot, sweet souffle. I can’t even remember the last time I saw one in a recipe book? This predominant dessert of the 1970s was ushered into today with a side of creme fraiche sorbet. It puffed a full two centimetres higher than the ramekin and was an utter joy to eat.
In short: Apero takes robust tradition and elevates it — deftly and literally.
Apero: 280 Karangahape Rd, Auckland, ph (09) 373 4778. We spent: $322 for four (including eight glasses of wine).