Conch Kitchen and Bar
One of the great things about being a guest judge for the Metro Top 100 Cheapeats awards (both Alexia and I are involved) is getting out to places that you never knew qualified as a Cheapeats restaurant.
I had heard about Conch on Ponsonby Road. I knew that it had a record store in the front and had a restaurant area in the back serving South American food. What I didn’t know was how delicious and how reasonably priced the food was.
We headed out to Conch on a wet Friday evening. Silly timing but the gods were with us and we scored a parking spot just out front of the restaurant. We walked in past the DJ spinning records and continued into the back area.
We had booked a table (just to be safe), and were given a friendly welcome and taken to our booth. Most of the seating in the rear of the restaurant is in booths. This area is not totally enclosed from the elements, so the staff had the heaters turned on and they were pointed in our direction. I can imagine that this would be a charming area to sit in on a warm summer’s evening – not so good on an Auckland wet winter’s night. Although if you indulged in one of their special cocktails I am sure that this would soon be forgotten!
However, we quickly forgot about the elements when we perused the menu. How delicious it all sounded! Tacos (3/$19) pressed the button for my daughter while my friend and I had a harder time making a decision. This is when it is good to be with someone who is happy to share – we decided on a Venezuelan variation on the taco, called “arepas” (2/$18) and the twice cooked organic beef short ribs ($24). Although the ribs were more money than our Cheapeats budget allows for, we were planning on sharing the dish.
My friend and I sipped on glasses of South American wine while we waited for our food. There is also a good drinks list featuring organic New Zealand wines and a range of craft beers and ciders.
Our food was attractively presented and really proved that first you “eat with your eyes”. My daughter tucked into her freshly made corn and sesame seed tacos – two were filled with shredded pork and the other with braised lamb and an apple and mint slaw. We didn’t get a chance to taste them! Fortunately we had selected the pork as the filling for one of our arepas, so can tell you that it was tender and flavourful. Our other filling was the black beans with guacamole and chipotle, also flavourful with the warmth and smokiness from the chipotle and freshness from the guacamole, green onion and cilantro topping. The arepas themselves were like a cornbread muffin, for want of a better description. They were split open and topped with our selected fillings. We loved them and they made a delicious change from a taco.
The beef ribs were the perfect comfort food dish for a winter’s evening. Probably better suited to a meal for one person that as a sharing dish, it was nonetheless a hearty meal. The beef was twice-cooked and was extremely tender, again with a warmth and smokiness from the spices that had been used on the beef. The potatoes were made the Peruvian way – mashed to silkiness and with added lemon! The salsa verde was a welcome both as a colour contrast and as a flavour burst.
Conch is definitely a place that could become a favourite. Open from breakfast through to late at night, it offers almost something for everyone. There are foods familiar to Kiwis plus those with a more unusual South American twist. Plus they make a real effort to use organic ingredients – we like that. And of course, the music is great!