My second visit to one of New Zealand’s four three-hat restaurants allowed me the opportunity to write five numbers in an opening sentence. Modern Japanese place Cocoro had recently been voted the best restaurant in New Zealand. I snagged a Friday lunchtime table to check it out.

In a quiet street behind the main drag of Ponsonby, the restaurant is as low-key as the location. Decor is the expected tranquil balance of wood and fabric. It’s a very recognisable Japanese set-up.

It was a quiet service so I had a couple of options of where to sit. I took up station at their central communal table near the kitchen end with a good view of the team at work.

At lunchtime they offer the full a la carte, some lunch specials, and a short-form four-course tasting menu. I opted for the latter and added their wine and saké mixed pairing.

First up we had a glass of Pierre Moncuit Champagne matched with two amuse bouches. The smoked mackerel was very good and the deep-fried swordfish dumpling was crisp with the fish nicely moist.

Next we had a sashimi platter featuring five fresh varieties. The highlight was the tuna which was outstandingly soft and delicious. The rest was of very good quality. This was matched with a classic Nabeshima saké.

The main course featured Wakanui beef in a manuka honey infused garlic teriyaki sauce. This style of sliced steak main course has been a staple of meals in this neck of the woods. Ester served me the most memorable, with good versions at Bar Liberty and Cumulus Inc. This was a curiously muted and nondescript version.

The dessert continued along these lines with a multi-element dish of orange textures. This included orange and soy sauce ice cream, woodear mushrooms, wood sorrel and calendula petals. This was a dish with good textural variance but little in the way of flavour pizzazz. It was far too subtle for my palate.

So overall, Cocoro served me a very good sashimi platter but the rest of the meal was rather ordinary. Service was friendly but a touch tentative giving a curiously staid atmosphere. Perhaps lunchtime is the wrong time to visit, so if you are tempted to go I’d try the evening. Hopefully you’ll uncover the gems on the menu that have led others to praise the place so highly. Sadly I was not so fortunate.

Blythe scores Cocoro
3.5/5 for food
3.5/5 for presentation
3.5/5 for service
4/5 for setting
giving an overall 14.5/20

I ate: snacks of smoked mackerel and deep-fried swordfish, sashimi, Wakanui beef, orange and soy sauce ice cream with textures of orange

I drank: wine and sake pairing

I wore: action footwear

Total bill: $114

Address: 56a Brown Street, Ponsonby, Auckland 1021

Written by BKR