Fiddlesticks Delights with Flair & Great Service
Read the review article here.
When the waitress brought a platter of lemon and lime slices to add to our water, I knew I was in good hands at Fiddlesticks.
It was a tiny touch but symptomatic of the care lavished on the food at this inner-city eatery across from the Art Gallery.
I had been initially underwhelmed by the menu, which at first glance seemed a bit ho-hum. The mains included the ubiquitous staples: steaks, check; Akaroa salmon, check; pork belly, check. Even the one pasta dish – pappardelle with beef cheek – was familiar from a couple of other inner-city fine dining joints.
But bold flavours, fine technique and impeccable service lifted a late-night meal at Fiddlesticks into the top level of Christchurch dining.
As seems to be becoming more common in Christchurch, Fiddlesticks is one of those places that wants to be all things to all people. It is open for breakfast through to dinner, and is cleverly designed so that whether you want a casual drink at an outdoors table or the full fine-dining experience, you will feel well catered for.
In what may have been a sign of its popularity and/or the festive season, I could only get a reservation for 9pm. I was reassured we would not be hurried out.
On a hot Friday evening we entered past drinkers at outdoor tables and glassed-in full function rooms to the left and right of the main entrance. We were promptly shown to a corner table in the main dining room that enabled us to sit next to each other on comfortable leather banquettes. We settled on sharing three “tasters” and a main as the more interesting choices were on the starter list.
The first to land was an Akaroa salmon tataki, a Japanese-inspired salad where the well-marbled salmon with a sesame seed crust had been briefly seared. The salmon was of the best quality and the wasabi mayo was both pungent and creamy, a perfect combination. The salad of fennel bulb, mandarins and coriander complemented the salmon well but somewhat buried it.
The beautiful presentation was favoured over ease of eating. I lifted the salad off the salmon and made better-proportioned bites that allowed the salmon to star.
The same could be said of the escabeche, a small bowl of prawns in a vinegary broth of pickled carrot ribbons, fennel, shallots and garlic. The only reason to leave the tails on prawns – forcing diners to pluck them off with their fingers – it to make them look prettier. The prawns had been either overseared before going in the dish or had sat too long in the marinade as they were slightly overdone and rubbery.
But the Moroccan spiced lamb shoulder was a triumph. It was pink all the way through but falling apart tender, making me suspect it had been cooked sous vide. The shoulder’s layer of fat made the dish unctuous and rich, which was cut by the spice and heat of the seasoning. A whole head of spinach with a smoky bite wilted over the meat, which sat on riced cauliflower, with a tangy fruit sauce uniting the whole dish.
I was grateful for my glass of Central Otago Carrick “Unravelled” pinot noir for bringing out the best in the lamb. and vice versa. Fiddlesticks’ has an excellent wine list, but it is not just for the big spenders who want to drop hundreds on some serious Bordeaux. I was thrilled to see some genuinely interesting wines available by the glass, from the flinty Gisbourne viognier I enjoyed with the seafood tasters to a Californian chardonnay.
I was also grateful to hear the waitress tell us that the sides were large. When you’ve dropped $33 for a main, it can be galling to also have to shell out $9 for a side dish to get some vegetables on your plate, but our spinach salad was well worth it. The heaping pile of baby spinach leaves was studded with walnuts and paper-thin slices of radish for an earthy kick and was lashed with a mild blue cheese dressing.
But it was the desserts that stole the show. The salted caramel delice featured a creamy caramel mousse with passionfruit icecream, pistachio brittle and popcorn, on generous swirls of salted caramel sauce. The tang of the freeze-dried raspberries brightened the peanut butter parfait with chocolate Kahlua sauce, just as the passionfruit icecream did in the delice.
Both looked gorgeous, served with tiny edible flowers. They were sophisticated, well conceived, well executed dishes, showcasing the flair and technique of an excellent pastry chef, who clearly shared the kitchen with a talented crew.
At a glance: Fiddlesticks
48 Worcester Blvd
Ph (03) 365 0533
Open: Monday-Friday, 8am-late; weekends, 9am-late
Prices: tasters: $14-16; mains: $25-$45
Cost: $122 for two (excluding drinks)
Drinks list ★★★★★