In the daytime, The Larder’s plain decor and food cabinets suit its description as a diner or coffee shop, but after dark it has loftier ambitions. After all, few coffee shops start the meal with an amuse-bouche, but we were served demitasses of sweetcorn soup with parsley-infused olive oil. The emphasis was on ‘sweet’, though the herbed oil cut through and helped whet rather than dull the appetite.
Chef Jacob Brown advocates ‘nose-to-tail’ dining, but those specific body parts were off the menu that night, so it was more about brain-to-loin. My companion started in the middle with smoked duck breast. This delicate assemblage used the crisp sweetness of nectarine and the bitterness of torn radicchio to bring out the smokiness of the perfectly pink duck.
For my entrée I chose twice-cooked goat’s cheese and Gruyere soufflé with white truffle oil and chives. This was risky, since truffle oil is to fresh truffles what 50 Shades of Grey is to real BDSM: an overexposed travesty of complex pleasures. Fresh truffles exude a transcendent fragrance, evoking the bucolic carnal divinity of a bacchanal in a Tuscan forest amid delicate autumnal rain, while black truffle oil has all the subtlety of a Lynx-and-bourbon-fuelled knee-trembler in the cubicle of a Courtenay Place bar. In this case, the white truffle oil was used so judiciously that it was barely noticeable, though without it the dish would have lacked cohesion: it bound the cheese and herb flavours together with a silken rope.
For her main, my date gorged on a combination of porcini-crusted beef fillet and slow-cooked cheek with spinach. The pungency of the mushroom and accompanying horseradish countered the slightly metallic spinach, and the cheek was outstanding, combining intense beefiness with a lusciously melting texture.
I chose the Nordic-sounding elk cutlets and loin with pickled raspberries and beetroot purée. The cutlets’ seared crust was saltier than a drunken sailor playing dirty Scrabble, which would have been excessive for some, but for halophiles like us, it was addictive. Sweetbreads and golden beetroot added gentle textural and flavour contrasts, and with a side of roast potatoes, sage and black olives, the mains were pleasantly filling.
While initially unwilling to suggest a wine to complement the sweetly meaty mains, our waitress returned with advice from her seniors to try the unfamiliar Boutari Agiorgitiko Nemea 2008. It was a glorious match, with a rich and almost porty sweetness, but just enough tannin backbone to tackle the meat.
To finish, the crema catalana had a textbook crunch, revealing soft custard with a citrus and cinnamon zing that set it apart from the typical blandness of crème brûlée. The accompanying churros and warm chocolate sauce were tasty if unexceptional. We also tried the more adventurous combination of roasted hay parfait with camomile, glistening fresh berries and crunchy slabs of hay meringue. The hay was subtly effective: a limbic evocation of hazy, summery country air.
Miramar has eclipsed Mt Victoria as the main home of Wellington’s Greek community, and The Larder was running a special Greek menu at the time. We kept to the standard menu, but it was definitely in the spirit of Epicurus. Despite the surroundings being more Sparta than Sybaris, they provide a treat for the brain and the loin as well as the tongue and the stomach.[warning]
Address: 133 Darlington Road, Miramar
Phone: 04 891 0354
Cost: Entrées $17–22; mains $35–38
Open: Tue–Sat 8am–3pm, Sun 9am–3pm; dinner Thu–Sat 6pm–late
Food: Nose-to-tail dining
Drink: Panhead Super Charger APA $10; Jim Barry The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon $13/glass, $52/bottle[/warning]