On a recent trip to New Zealand, Tina and I dined at a variety of restaurants. Many were interesting, some were disappointing, but only a few were worth writing about. The first of these few that we encountered was situated in the Viaduct Harbour District of Auckland - Soul. [IMG]
Soul has the distinction of being the first restaurant to not allow me to take pictures in. When I asked if I could take a few pictures, I was told that I would have to have called the restaurant and obtained permission from the owner in advance to arrange for the privilege to take pictures and would not be allowed to publish any pictures without their prior approval of the individual photographs. Given that Soul had been recommended to us by the hotel concierge only thirty minutes before, it wouldn't have been possible to call the owner in advance. We didn't think we'd have the opportunity to visit Auckland anytime in the near future, so we went ahead and ate there without the benefit of taking pictures.
One of the interesting things about Soul is that the menu is set up providing a lot of options for the guest. The dishes that I normally think of as appetizers can be mixed and matched to form a meal (like tapas) or you can request them to be made larger to serve as a full entree. The fish is selected separately from the preparation - so you can have the yellowfin tuna grilled while your companion also has the tuna, but roasted.
Tina ordered the Chatham Island Blue Cod, roasted under vine leaves (grape leaves) with shallots, mushrooms, and almonds (NZ$29.50). I ordered the Crispy pork belly on caramelized parsnips, silverbeet, and toasted pinenuts (also NZ$29.50). We ordered bread with Soul's bessara (a hummus-like dip that uses white beans instead of chickpeas, NZ$4.50) and a mixed green salad (NZ$6.50).
The Bessara needed salt, but after we added a couple pinches of salt, it was very good. It had a nice start (tasted like a bean dip), was very smooth in consistency, and had a good finish (slightly spicy followed by a floral scent - perhaps sumac? Perhaps it was the olive oil poured on top, which was quite fruity).
The salad was served at the same time as our entrees and was a variety of mixed greens served with oil, vinegar, pepper, and salt (actually a lot of salt). It also contained avocado and cucumber chunks which pleasantly surprised us. The saltiness of the salad was a bit much at the beginning, but once we got started with the entrees and the wine, it was acceptable. The sour vinegar and the fresh greens played well together.
As I looked down at the fish and the pork, I thought, why won't they let me photograph this? The entrees were beautiful and would have made mouth watering accompaniments to this article.
The fish was delicately flaky and very moist. The exterior was lightly crisped adding some nice contrast in texture. The fish was served (covered by a grape leaf) in a very flavorful broth with tomato, toasted almonds, mushrooms, fava beans, yellow pepper, and carrots.
The pork was prepared in a way I had never seen before (but would experience once more in New Zealand). The skin was incredibly crispy and flavorful (like fried pork rinds), but, after the initial crunch, became sticky and slightly chewy, slowly releasing flavor. Eaten with the flesh of the pork belly, it was a great combination of flavors. The belly was slightly sweet, heavy on pork flavor, and soft. It was so soft that it felt like it would dissolve in the mouth as you lightly chewed. The pork was served on top of a sweet mashed potato that tasted strongly of New Zealand butter (which I've found has a somewhat different flavor and is stronger tasting than American butter - it's also quite a bit yellower).
Despite not being able to take pictures of the food (what do they have to hide?), I thoroughly enjoyed the meal and would definitely recommend Soul as a place to dine for anyone visiting or living in Auckland.
You should go to the French Cafe, which is consistently voted as the best restaurant in Auckland. I love to dine there. It is a choice spot. You should call them at least one week in advance, otherwise it is impossible to get a reservation. http://www.thefrenchcafe.co.nz/
If you mean mashed sweet potato, it was probably kumara, a Maori staple that is the same plant.
The food I liked most in NZ was green lipped mussels, sold in the US as green mussels or green shell mussels. I got some in a restaurant done in a sort of Thai sauce that was wonderful. They are milder and bigger than our Atlantic mussels.
Posted: Tue Dec 11, 2007 8:47 pm Post subject: Kumara and Crackling
1) While the Kumara is apparently a variety of Sweet Potato it should be noted that it is quite different and distinct in flavor and texture from those varieties available in the US. I'm not sure if the botanically speaking this difference occurs at the species level or lower, but it is a different "animal" so to speak from sweet potato
2) That pork rind is what we call Crackling and is usually done anytime we have oven-roasted pork...its the best part of a pork dish! Of course the more throaty versions of packaged pork scratchings in the UK also are chewy to some extent rather than 100% crunchy