Inti opened in August in the space formerly held by the short-lived Meat Fish Wine after a quick-fire turnaround. The worst of the opulence has been removed (yes, that dusty wine teardrop has gone) and space has been lightened. The bar is essentially the same glorious space – the play of concrete and timber flooring is engaging and the makeover is mild. And in a quirky nod to the Central and South American theme of the restaurant, artist Flox has created some pared-back murals of Pachamama (Mother Nature) and llamas for the walls. The ungainly communal hand-washing area in the bathroom remains, but the overall impression feels more welcoming and less weighty.
I’m pleased that Javier Carmona has found a permanent home in Inti. A previous incarnation, the Avondale pop-up Etxeberria, showed the direction he was taking and introduced some earlier versions of the food. Carmona has a great resume as executive chef for the Mouthful Group, which owns the Mexico restaurants, Beirut and others, and appears to have poached a number of Beirut’s staff, including the fabulous Austrian manager Carolin Klauser.
His food is intriguing yet playful – a beef kebab with a side of rounds of cucumber dressed with a lettuce sauce looks like a pond filled with lily pads, and careful plating ensures that a garnish of nasturtium leaves matches the size of the rounds of the cucumber. Also playful is the way in which many of the main components are hidden – lamb under cabbage, chorizo under a silverbeet leaf, crema Catalana under shards of burnt meringue. Care too has been taken in choosing the local ceramics on which it’s served, with Richard Naylor plates and Laughing Pottery water jugs and mugs featuring.
Clearly, time and effort has been taken to source ingredients – tequesquite salt, epazote, fresh cactus, insect flours. Avocado leaves are common in Mexican and other Central American cooking and here they’re used to great effect in a cactus “guacamole” – deep-fried, with a nutty flavour melding beautifully with the creamy avocado, tangy cactus and buttermilk. The accompanying corn fritter provided sweetness while the seaweed tangle gave a salty burst, and those crunchy almonds – divine.
The smaller dishes from the antojito and streets section of the menu are the strongest. An arepa (corn cake) stuffed with charred sweetcorn and bursts of salmon roe was delectably sweet and savoury, with creamy lardo adding a hint of pig, all cut with the gentle tang of caramelised yoghurt
– I could have eaten this all night.
Also excellent was the green chorizo – a loose mix of cumin chorizo with vibrant green puree and a 65-degree egg with toasted pepitas.
A beautifully presented main of esqueixada was just the ticket for a hot evening, with cooling pieces of cucumber and melon joined by salty samphire and salted monkfish bacalao, though an everso-slight funkiness in some pieces of fish marred the dish a little.
A crema Catalana made with goat milk was a delight to finish with. At first taste it was overwhelmingly sweet – a surprise on a menu where elsewhere sweetness is kept to a minimum – but the thin custard paired with the torched meringue, nutty toasted barley and berries offset it surprisingly well.
Service was initially patchy – there was a long wait sitting with water before we got some menus, and a face of pure blankness from the waiter when it came to offering a wine suggestion, which is a shame when the wine list is so varied and considered. This is a menu where you need some guidance and to ask questions – not everything here is familiar. However, once the food started coming, the pacing from the front-ofhouse staff improved, as did the service.
The fact that Inti is serving some of the most exciting food in town is no surprise. Carmona is a master of using texture and techniques to create food that is interesting, varied and never dull. I want to go back again immediately with a group of food obsessives to work through the entire menu.