Sometimes you eat a meal that you just need to think about for a couple of days. To truly review a restaurant, you can’t do it in just one visit. What you can do is recount a single experience after a little reflection. Think of it as a mini memoir.
I’d earmarked Gingerboy as a restaurant to make an effort to visit after it opened last year. In fact it was one of my foodie New Year resolutions
. Having eaten at Ezard a number of times, though not of late due to the sad demise of Visitors With Expense Accounts, I knew it would be a swish and pricey experience.
Fortified with an after work glass of wine and a debrief elsewhere, we hit Gingerboy with no booking. The premises, once the home of a favourite restaurant, had been revamped moving from Asian Sedate to Seriously Cool. Walking through the narrow door off Crossley St, you knew you had arrived. There was a vibe and it was packed. But down the little step to the dining room a table for 2 awaited us.
The interior of the room is dim, accented with red strands and bamboo. Philippe Starck “Louis Ghost’ chairs caress your bottom at $600 a pop. The waiting staff wearing trademark red shirts are swift and attentive (mostly, but we will get to that later). Seating you with a salutation of “would you like some sparkling water or tap water for the table?” The Water Question let’s you know what kind of a joint it is, one at the pointy end.
The menu is broken into small and moderate sized dishes with an interesting array of side dishes. There was just enough light to read the menu. The efficient waitress ran us through the proportions; the guide is 1.5 small and 1 large dish per person, to be shared. Fortunately we were an even number so we didn’t have the half dish conundrum. We made a selection easily, enjoyed yet another delightful NZ sauv blanc and headed back into the conversation.
Shortly our first dish arrived. The menu description of the green papaya and fired sticky rice salad didn’t do it justice. It was a mouth explosion of flavour – tang, heat, salt, depth and intense tomato. Eventually we realised the crunchy stuff on the top was the rice. The flavour combination was huge, almost overwhelming. Sadly, it would come back to haunt me until well into the next day.
The other 2 starters were a little more sedate, a couple of prawn dumplings with bonito mayonnaise and a smoked trout/avocado salad with betel leaf number. I’d envisaged a more traditional ensemble on the leaf, but presumably the vegetation was finely shredded throughout it. After the papaya salad, there was something off key about the flavours in the last dish.
Moments later, the mains graced the table. First a Singapore Noodle concoction, with fried egg noodles, lotus root and some barely seen other vegetables. The initial hit tasted smoky and salty. We’d also ordered fish cakes, modest small disks in a sea of orange citrus curry. I suspect it was flavoured with desert limes and possibly grapefruit but by now my taste buds had been so over stimulated I’d only be guessing. A tiny bowl of steamed rice came with the fish cakes – finally something bland and soft to balance the oral riot. We’d been gently nudged into considering the corn cakes on the side and they were a winner. Small balls of corn kernels in batter “to mop” the waitress had suggested. I suspect a more balanced meal could have included extra sides and less entrees.
By now we were full as a boot and hitting the mid-week slump, energy-wise. Skipping dessert the bill arrived promptly. But that was to be the end of the service, we dropped off the radar of the floor staff. Not in any huge hurry it was about 5 minutes later we actually glanced at the bill, making a joke about ‘the damage’. I blinked at the total. $290 plus? The lighting was dim but a second look assured me I’d got it right the first time. Yes we’d been unrestrained in our ordering but our bottle of wine was moderate and there were only 2 of us. A closer examination found an extra $100 on a bar tab that bore no relation to our activity and an extra 4 or 5 dishes added to the bill. We tried to get the attention of our waitress. We waited patiently. The longer we sat there, the more the conspiracy theories grew. Everything else about the restaurant was slick and professional, for no reason in particular we didn’t find the gross doubling of the bill accidental. This is not based on hard fact, it was just a mutual feeling fed by our invisibility.
In the end we got up, cornered the waitress politely got a new bill and paid at the bar before leaving (gone was the table service at this point).
I got home and discovered the party in my mouth had headed south to my stomach. All those individually delightful spices had got together and started singing a most discordant song. It went on all night and I got little sleep.
On waking the SE said to me “I know what you ate last night – I can still smell it coming in waves off your body!”
Not the best way to remember a meal, don’t you think?