December 11, 2016 / Leave a Comment
There’s just something about Cibo. It’s not easy to find, tucked away on a back street in the city fringe. Sure, it sits hidden amongst high-end furniture stores (mostly patronised by Interior Designers on the Eastern Suburbs dime), a fab French market (La Cigale), a fab wine shop (Caro’s) and offices, but you wouldn’t know it’s there unless you know it’s there. Despite its lack of street frontage, or maybe because of, it’s been a stalwart of Auckland’s elite for more years than I care to count.
Step into its roomy interior and it’s an oasis of many delights. Chandelier-lit booths draped in black, bamboo trees looking so at home amongst tables that you wonder why every restaurant doesn’t have them, walls resplendent in cherry blossom wallpaper and black mirrors. Whimsical beaded birdcage style light shades hang from the ceiling below billows of white fabric, and outdoors offers an inner city sanctuary surrounded by water and flora. I guess it’s got that quintesstial ‘kiwi-ness’ – ‘indoor-outdoor flow’. It’s little wonder it’s a favourite for sophisticated weddings and soirees.
Somehow amongst all this understated, effortless glamour there is an atmosphere that always makes me feel at home when I dine there. Relaxed. Like deadlines and time constraints are no longer a concern. Perhaps it’s the soothing decor that has this effect on me, perhaps it’s the staff. You’re greeted by familiar faces, whether it’s the charming hands-on owner Jeremy, or Brad, who tends to your table like you’re an old friend. Which I’m sure, at a place like Cibo, a lot of people are. It’s exactly the kind of friendly, yet refined service I like.
Another factor is a menu where everything just sounds good. So good, it’s hard to choose just what to order. At the heart of the Cibo menu is a finely tuned understanding of how to balance flavours. It’s a fusion of Kiwi, European, sometimes Asian expressions – but it’s always delicious.
Being a little short on time on this trip to Auckland, I decided to pop in for lunch. With a fabulously well-priced lunch menu, it’s rather hard to resist. From February to November they offer a two course ($44) or three course ($49) lunch menu (for an extra $5, how could you say no to dessert?). It’s billed as ‘express’ and can be served in 45 minutes for those who need to get back to the office – but they’ll happily serve it as slow as you like for those who, like me, like to linger a little longer. It’s available Monday – Friday, 12 noon – 4pm.
What I ordered…
Free-range pork belly, pork doughnut, lentil hozon, pineapple kimchi, crab pancake
Masterstock glazed duck breast, pressed leg, cherry, charred celeriac, sesame crisp
Louise cake Eton mess
(also pictured: Cibo sashimi & condiments, Selection of Cibo treats)
Before I get on to the food, let me just make mention of the wine. Cibo has a brilliantly curated list of (but of course) New Zealand wines, and while prices aren’t cheap, they are on par with other restaurants of this calibre (The Grove, Sidart, The French Cafe) and the pour size is very, very good. Dubai, you’ve got a lot to learn about wine pours (ahem, Katana)! For the same price as a much-too-small, poor quality glass in Dubai I get a very generous pour of one of NZ’s top drops – what’s not to love? Nothing puts a diner at ease more than a decent pour – and the reverse is equally true! I think it says a lot about the hospitality ethos of the establishment – welcoming and successful, or miserly and struggling. I know at which I’ll be spending more on wine. Oh, and they have Peroni on tap, as do most first class Auckland establishments. It’s definitely the right beer pairing for the food being served up.
Even though the kitchen has to make some adjustments on the fly for my allergies, they deliver dishes that are nothing short of perfection. I know I’ve mentioned how masterful the Cibo chefs are at flavour balance, but I have to say it again – it’s just spot on. The pork doughnut is insane, the pork belly beautiful. The components of the dish have an innate sweetness that is the perfect partner to pork. Much like the masterful Sid Sahrawat of Sidart and Cassia, Cibo has a plating style that is instantly recognisable – refined, yet not intimidating or forced.
My duck is a dish culinary dreams are made of. It’s absolutely delicious. Duck, cherry, celeriac? Match made in heaven. The sesame crisp adds the perfect crunch and the only downside is I wanted more.
My louise cake eton mess is not something I’d normally order, but I have faith that the Cibo version will be impressive. And it is. Every bite is heaven, without being overly heavy – perfect for lunch.
The only downside of my Cibo lunch is it makes me wish I was doing the degustation instead. Cibo, just FYI – I’ll be back in February to try the full complement. I’ve never met a dish at Cibo I didn’t like, and I don’t expect that’s going to change anytime soon…
Overall Rating: 9.3/10*
*(Rating updated to reflect average over two dining experiences)