Restaurant Review: Cibo, Parnell

Coeliac-friendly eatery’s intuitive staff complete the dining experience

The venison loin on the menu at Cibo. Picture / Guy Coombes.

Address: 91 St Georges Bay Rd, Parnell, Auckland
Phone: (09) 303 9660
Cuisine: Modern European
Bookings accepted
Drinks: fully licensed
From the menu: green peppercorn squid $24, seared scallops $27.50, tomato salad $12, roasted hapuka $44, venison loin $45, tiramisu $18, pavlova $16.50
Rating: 9/10

Food allergies are like children: boring to talk about unless you actually have one. It may well be that the smell of a single peanut will send you to A&E with anaphylaxis, but if you happen to try to engage the waiter on this topic he will likely give you the “lady, don’t do this to me” look before you’ve even spat out the question.

Gluten is even more boring than nuts, because there’s no ambulance glamour and both the symptoms and the allergen are poorly understood. It’s little wonder you get no sympathy from chefs, who horrifically burn and cut their hands nightly but are expected to offer a spelt-based focaccia because you’re afraid of a little bloat.

Like I say, unless you’re avoiding these things yourself you don’t really understand, which brings me to Cibo in Parnell, where chef Kate Fay has been diagnosed with coeliac disease (not an allergy so much as an intestinal reaction, actually) and has developed a menu which is largely wheat-free. So if you’re not suitin’ the gluten (my original work, that phrase, but I can’t stop you using it) there’s at least one place where empathy has replaced the eye roll.

READ: Restaurant Review: Little Jimmy, Epsom

The courtyard dining area at Cibo restaurant. Picture / Guy Coombes.

With or without wheat, Cibo is an outstanding restaurant, the sort of place that reminds you how good Auckland can get. We’re being swamped by “eateries” at the minute, which are all very well for a casual munch but do tend to erode your expectations of the service staff: as in bed, befuddled enthusiasm only takes you so far.

Cibo on the other hand is the sort of place where you can turn up holding a phone charger and the people on the door immediately intuit what you need — in my case, an extra fifteen minutes of charging time so that our babysitter could reach us during dinner. I’d only got as far as “do you mind if I pl-“ before my phone had been spirited away to an AC port in a safe yet accessible location, and if they’d polished the screen and cleared my inbox for me before returning it I wouldn’t have been at all surprised.

The floor staff radiate professionalism — the manager was wearing shorts and a shirt but even in that outfit, the international uniform of the metalwork teacher, he managed to look sharp. He answered any menu question we could devise and managed to recite the menu highlights without sounding like it was the 700th time he’d done it that day.

My only complaint was that as things got busy we lost him — a long wait for mains is tolerable if you have somebody checking with you from time to time, but I spent a good 15 minutes trying to catch his eye without any luck.

At least the view was good — they’ve done a spectacular job of creating a natural environment in an industrial area, with a water feature so extensive it appears to have its own reedy ecosystem.

Sails, screens and open flames all contribute to the sense that you are hidden away from it all, whatever your personal version of “it” is. Plus you’re surrounded by people from Parnell, and there is endless fun to be had working out the dynamics of the tables around you: girlfriend or daughter? Stepdad or boss? BFF or DTF?

READ: Restaurant Reviews by Jesse Mulligan

The scallops on the menu at Cibo. Picture / Guy Coombes.

You can’t go wrong on the menu, which is both upmarket and reassuring, inventive without being edgy. My entree featured a seamlessly blended combination of fish, fowl and hoof — seared scallops with bacon bits and silky chicken parfait. All that richness was cut with a sweet and sour apricot puree, while a hazelnut crumble added earthy texture.

The venison main featured generous portions of beautifully seared loin, dark on the outside and bright red within. Multiple executions of beetroot created further shades of colour and sweetness, while blackberry puree, truffle mash and cacao soil combined to evoke the forest floor.

At the end of your meal you can choose from perhaps a dozen cheeses and almost as many sweet options. We regretted going for the deconstructed tiramisu, which leaned too heavily on chocolate — the original ingredient is cocoa, and all the better for the bitterness it adds to the dessert. We also got a delicious but preposterously sized pavlova, enough for a table of four and perfect to box up for the babysitter.

If, like Viva, you haven’t been to Cibo in the past few years, I insist you revisit it on your next special occasion. The interior was stylishly revamped in 2011 and, whether you’re inside or out, this is an unbeatably beautiful, elegant sanctuary from whatever you’re looking to escape, be it city life, your spouse or gluten.

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