Since it was Mr Cake's birthday last week his parents offered to take us out for dinner while we were in Christchurch over the evening. Mr Cake's mum stealthily booked something and wouldn't tell us where we were going - though she did tell me to bring our Entertainment Book/card down, and a lot of the restaurants in it are sadly currently unable to operate so that did narrow down the choices - but it was supposed to be a surprise. We would have been completely in the dark - except that Mr Cake answered the phone in the afternoon when the restaurant called to confirm our booking. Busted!
Mr Cake and I had dined at Pescatore once before, about three years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it, so were pleased to be going back (good choice, Mr Cake's Mum) and it surpassed our expectations.
Pescatore is one of two restaurants in The George Hotel, which is on Park Terrace, not far from the fenced-off apartments I mentioned the other day - so though access via Montreal Street is straightforward the other (driving) routes in are still blocked.
We were greeted in what the Maitre'd referred to as his "padded cell" - a small white room with, indeed, padded walls. We were offered berry foam to start, which was light and refreshing, and then led to our table. The waiter explained the menu options - they have a 10 course degustation ("Evolution") menu, a five course "Middle" menu (which gives two choices for three of the courses), and the a la carte. We dined from the Middle menu.
Shortly after ordering we were presented with an amuse bouche of fish and chips. Unexpected (fish and chips in a high end restaurant?) - but fantastic! A tiny morsel of tender fish, cooked just so, and wafer-thin, perfectly seasoned chips, wrapped in a little cone of paper. I have to say at this point that I love amuse bouche - I find it really exciting to see what the chef concocts, as some can be completely off the wall, or, like this, a different take on a classic. It's also quite fun to get something you haven't chosen - to challenge your own palate (though any one of my family can tell you I have always loved fish and chips, so I guess this one wasn't so much a challenge) and a nice wee surprise.
Shortly afterwards we were brought bread, which came in paper bags - we each had a brioche roll, and a fennel seed ficelle (i.e. long skinny bun), and there was olive oil and truffle butter on the table. Mmm, truffle butter... Both breads were fantastic, and it wasn't long before we'd all scarfed down every last crumb.
The first course was called "Perception" and was described as a ham salad. As you can see from the photo, perceptions are indeed challenged with this dish! It was delicious, though - basically, the elements of the salad - ham, beetroot, lettuce, onion and apple, and even rye bread, had been dehydrated, and it was served with "onion whip" - a creamy concoction reminiscent of the classic Kiwi onion dip, only much better, which gave the vegies the perfect amount of moisture. I didn't rate the lettuce too highly (though it worked better than I expected!) - after some experimentation I concluded the best combo was apple with a bit of ham and some of the dip - but all the elements were good, and as a bonus it was fun to eat.
The next round was our starter course, and we had chosen between salmon and duck. I do love duck but Mr Cake had put dibs on that option and I knew I could steal off his plate a bit, so I went with the salmon. The salmon was lovely and fresh tasting, really delicious, and perfect paired with the creme fraiche pearls and avocado. The creme fraiche pearls sort of popped when you cut into them, with the liquidy centre flowing out - looked cool on the plate but even better in your mouth. Mr Cake's duck was also fantastic, the meat being very tender, and the raspberry vinegar marshmallows providing a tart aspect to the dish - a surprising but good combination.
For the main, I chose the Canterbury lamb trio - poached loin, braised lamb neck and lamb bacon. The waiter advised us that the chef makes his own bacon - and it was delicious, too, I would buy that from the supermarket - come on, New World, where's my lamb bacon? The lamb was all wonderful and having the different textures pleased me. The potato came in a round croquette - reminiscent of those potato pom-poms you can buy from the supermarket, but a million times better tasting.
Mr Cake's sister has Coeliac disease, so is highly sensitive to gluten, but it wasn't a problem at all here. The restaurant had been warned, and right at the beginning the waiter checked which of us it was, and throughout the evening they quietly substituted where appropriate, and advised and reassured where there may have been doubts. In this case she had also ordered the lamb, and instead of the crumbed croquette she received crunchy cubes of potato (which her brothers, 'helping' her finish her meal, professed to be better than the default option). Excellent service!
Mr Cake's main was the turbot, which was probably the best dish of the night (though all were very good). The fish, which was simply but beautifully cooked, was flavoursome and moist, and prompted a flurry of geeky smartphone reading as we weren't familiar with turbot. The crab pot sticker (a pot sticker is a sort of dumpling) was also very scrummy - I was pretty jealous of this, I have to admit - my taste wasn't enough for me. ;-)
Before dessert we were each served a light-as-air berry souffle - it was pretty nice, though Mr Cake was more enamoured with this than I - I guess I was hanging out for the real dessert. ;-)
For dessert, I had the goat cheese cheesecake, which was very light and fluffy, and only hinted of goat cheese (I had been hoping for a stronger flavour, but perhaps that was an unwise wish since this is dessert). The accompanying brandy snap contained a zesty apple and lime mousse (again, not too strong, very tasty) and the mango sorbet was incredibly good - sweet, very intense mango flavour, and not too icy.
Mr Cake's decadent rocky road dessert was pretty cool - the test tube sticking out the top contained cherry milkshake, and the fudgey chocolate part was studded with marshmallow. He also had marshmallow ice-cream, to round out the rocky road experience. Judging by how clean the plate was afterwards and how much he shared with me I'd say it went down a treat. ;-)
Just when our bellies were bursting and we were thinking of waddling back to the car we were presented with one final round of treats - petit fours, and Mr Cake's came with a birthday message too. The perfect end to a wonderful evening!
I loved the fish and chips, the ham salad, and the turbot (oh, that crab pot sticker!) - which dish would you most want to try?
Pescatore is located in The George Hotel, 50 Park Avenue, Christchurch, ph 03 371 0257, www.thegeorge.com/pescatore.htm