Restaurant Review: Sidart, Ponsonby
Sidart takes Indian dining to the next level, writes Jesse Mulligan
Cuisine: Indian fine dining
Phone: (09) 360 2122
Address: 283 Ponsonby Road
Drinks: Fully licensed
From the menu: Discovery Menu $160pp
Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good, give it a go. 16-18 Great, plan a visit. 19-20 Outstanding, don’t delay.
When Sid and Chand Sahrawat took over the French Cafe in September, they rejigged their flagship restaurant as Indian fine dining. So now you can get European Sid at the French or South Asian Sid at Sidart, and at either of those places you will probably eat the greatest meal of your life.
I’d expected the changes at Sidart to be more subtle — a cardamom pod here, a cumin seed there — but this is unabashedly Indian. You will hear terms like rogan josh and kusundi yet the kitchen has managed to subtract all of the elements that might remind you of curries past: no rice, no bread, no slop.
Because Sidart has won so many awards and topped so many lists, it is a natural magnet for the wealthy tourist with no taste. A woman near us said “no thanks” to the first perfect morsel presented by the kitchen because one of the ingredients was eel. “You don’t want to … try it?” said the waitress, more out of disbelief than peer pressure. But the answer was “no”, and because part of what you pay for in a restaurant like this is to not have your hideous personality flaws pointed out to you, the waitress said “No problem at all, we will make you something else”.
(Sid didn’t build his reputation serving food that was familiar, and the week before they’d had a room full of cruise-ship passengers, many of whom found the food just too … weird. “I was like, work with me here or this is going to be a long three hours,” said one of the staff, recalling the experience.)
Though each restaurant in the Sahrawat empire now has its own chef captain, Sid’s signature is on every dish: multiple textures and temperatures and most distinctively the bold colours and shapes. “Art on a plate” used to be his thing but with lots of different chefs now offering that (often at a lower price point) Sid’s own brush strokes have become bolder: often it will be just one colour that dominates, or an intricate dish will have its details hidden by a boldly engineered structure balanced on the top. You want to explore the thing in VR before you stick your fork into it.
Fine dining restaurants are pouring more and more into their unadvertised “snacks”, the group of small dishes that precede the set menu. Chefs called this course an amuse in the past (some plumped for “koha”) but now they are in a full snack arms race, with customers the happy beneficiaries. Here we had a coriander-creme fraiche sorbet with puffed rice wrapped in a nasturtium leaf, the aforementioned eel in a little pastry tart and shaved macadamia, plus geometrically appealing paneer and spinach cylinders, and a taco made from an ultra-fine sheet of carrot folded over salmon roe, which had so much texture you could almost call it a verb.
Like most degustations (it is called a “Discovery Menu” here) the meal was a showcase of proteins and what the chef could do with them. I loved the duck breast, dry aged for flavour and to help crisp up the skin, and served with a miniature dish of slow-cooked thigh tucked inside a pickled onion petal. I hope the tourists stuck around long enough for the tender lamb cutlet, a reassuring cut albeit served with a tiny little goat and mushroom stew.
The experience isn’t perfect. They need to address the playlist because it’s hard to be transported when you’re sitting under a speaker playing Brimful of Asha and Fatboy Slim’s Praise You. The food is unassailable really but I still think there is too much sweet — a large pre-dessert, then two puddings, which are frankly incredible but OTT at that end of the night, to my tastes. Then petit fours. That said, the jaggery (a type of unrefined sugar) icecream was my favourite dish of the night, served with a bitter-sweet coffee meringue, raspberries and beetroot cooked in coffee grounds (okay, you had to be there — but the beetroot had become compressed and intensified so that it almost resembled a good jelly lolly).
Sidart has always led the industry with its dinnerware and there are beautiful new innovations here — a kina shell gourd made from porcelain, a cute wooden device that stacks the knives and forks so nobody has to worry about which one to use next. The water glasses are tilted just so on the table when you arrive, which is a good preview of the consideration and exactness that will characterise your evening. The wine list is fantastic and very well priced.
Though a 19 out of 20 technically scores the place less than my recent visit to The French Cafe, if you offered me dinner at either I think Sidart would take it by a nose. It’s so exciting to see and taste Indian done at this level, and the elevated dining room looking back towards the city is one of Auckland’s most stunning views.
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