Soto Japanese Garden Restaurant, Ponsonby, Auckland

I have grown to love Japanese food, especially for their genius with simplicity. In most Japanese restaurants, there is no adulteration with fancy flavours and decorative flourishes. Subtlety reigns and the focus is always on the freshest ingredients cooked with a few flavour notes to highlight the produce. The presentation is always a delight, with the various small pottery ware and clean looking offerings.

Soto (13 St Mary’s Bay Road, Ponsonby, Ph: 09-360 0021) does this exceptionally well. Soto is housed in a old converted building, and you can choose to dine at the regular dining tables, or for larger groups, there is the option of the tatami room.

The menu offers a la carte dishes, and four different set menus. As it was my first visit to Soto, I decided to let the chef do the recommendations, and chose the Soto Signature Selection ($64 pp).

Soto dressed seafood salad. This was a nice light opening to the degustation. The salad of fresh greens lightly dressed with small bites of sashimi.

Japanese Tapas: Fish panko katsu, omelette & beef Karaage. This consisted of the sweet omelette, a soy-flavoured deep-fried beef and the crunchy fish katsu. This was served with ‘Sansai’ consomme.

‘New Style’ white fish sashimi & tuna tataki. The tuna was rolled in giant kelp pepper and seared, giving a nice peppery crust to contrast the gamey texture of the tuna, whereas the snapper sashimi was dressed with a ponzu and spicy sesame sauce. Nigiri sushi dressed (2pc) rolled sushi (2pc).

Paradise prawn filo tempura is a beautiful sight. The pop of the wasabi ‘caviar’, the sweetish-tart mayonnaise, followed by the crunch of the filo and then the savoury prawn is a taste explosion. This was my favourite course of the evening.

Manuka honey infused teriyaki chicken, – the crispy skin, and the sweet-soy-sake flavour of the perfectly cooked meat makes one of the best teriyaki chicken I have tasted.

White Warehou ‘Saikyou’. By the time this miso marinated warehou came out, I was too full to have more than a taste. This was nice, but a bit too sweet for my liking.

Black Sesame ice-cream & green tea. For unexplained reasons, I have only ever had green tea ice-cream in Japanese restaurants. Not anymore. Black sesame ice-cream is a luscious mix of nutty and creamy.

Soto is a fine combination of great atmosphere, engaging staff and fabulous food. They are open 5 days, lunch Tues – Fri 12 – 2pm, dinner Tues – Sat 6pm until late.

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