We discover a degustation with a difference that is well worth the trek to the east.
With all due respect to the eastern suburb of Auckland, rare are the opportunities to apply the words ‘degustation destination’ and Howick in the same sentence. But the tasty tides, they are a-changing, thanks to a mind-expanding menu of small plates by a culinary newcomer versed in the reimagination of authentic offerings from the coastal region of Portugese-influenced Goa.
A stone’s throw from Howick’s happening hot spot Basalt, Xacuti (pronounced sha-cu-tee) has taken up residence on Picton Street, in the blink-and-you-miss-it corner that was formerly home to a certain Cajun-Creole cafe known as Giggles. It is in this unboastful space that two couples, Mayank and his head chef wife Rasika, Maxim and Rhuta, have paved the way for a quintet of courses that are sure to rouse the most jaded of tastebuds. You’ll more than likely be seated and served by one of the owners, and upon casting our eye over the menu, we see why – an experienced guide is necessary to help you truly appreciate the culinary offerings at hand.
Adhering to the degustation format, at Xacuti, your exotic expedition commences as soon as you’ve elected an entrée, main and dessert. Captivating us right from the beginning was the ever changing amuse-bouche, with the chef’s prerogative that evening taking the form of a mini samosa where the quintessential curried potato filling was replaced with a juicy Goan pork curry, and atop the crispy shell, a cooling mint and coriander chutney, dotted with sweet bursts of housemade fig caviar. And just in case you were thinking about it, this is not the place to refrain from the bread course. Putting their unique spin on the Portuguese Easter mainstay – the Folar bun – the warm, egg-y roll infused with saffron comes paired with a moreish black garlic butter and delicate chilli crab mousse.
In the appetiser realm, we opted for the mouthwatering ode to the region’s coastal influence – perfectly cooked scallops resting on a rice flour bilini, drizzled with a spicy, sweet, savoury sauce, finished with a mangosteen foam and celeriac poppadum – and the edible artwork that is the lamb gulawati on goats cheese, butternut puree, with pearl onions, topped with a crispy lotus root chip. And, ‘forced’ to take one for the collective team, we can safely say that the crispy crackling of the vindaloo pork belly main course with chorizo mash and cabbage foogath (a dry vegetable dish made with coconut, curry leaves and poppy seeds) will please the fussiest of carnivores, while the fish of the day, snapper marinated in malvani masala (a coastal spice blend) before being coated in semolina and fried to crispy perfection, will, with each bite, transport unsuspecting eaters to the Goan seaside. Finally, drawing the scrumptious feast to an end, multiple spoonfuls later, we were still unable to pick a favourite between the stunning alphonso panna cotta with freeze dried plum shards, mango caviar and coriander, and the rose arroz doce (Portuguese rice pudding) with royal praline and luscious fig ice cream, so we can only suggest you embark on the arduous task of tasting and deciding for yourself.
With a menu brimming with intriguing and palatable dishes and the flexibility to determine your own five course degustation, this gastronomic discovery will undoubtedly see us venturing east more often.
Tuesday – Friday, 5.30pm till late
Saturday – Sunday, 11am till late.
124 Picton St
(09) 534 3051