Moiety is a fresh and exciting addition to Dunedin’s vibrant warehouse precinct, housed in the smartly refurbished 1880s Railway Central Terminus Hotel building.
Inside, the walls have been stripped back, exposing bare bricks, rough concrete beams and iron pillars, and the concrete floor has been polished. The effect is both edgy and, with the addition of padded banquettes and comfortable chairs, welcoming. A long bar allows those seated there to watch and chat with the chefs working in the open kitchen behind, adding to the casual ambience and intimate feel of the small, 25-seat restaurant – not to mention getting an insight into Sam’s cuisine.
Returning to New Zealand after 15 years working in hospitality overseas, former Dunedinites Sam Gasson and Kim Underwood offer a five-course degustation menu that changes regularly, along with a few shared plates and a small but interesting drinks list.
Sam is fascinated by Japanese flavours and the ethos of Japanese cuisine and his menu reflects an innovative, contemporary interpretation using local ingredients and some molecular techniques. Like the decor, the presentation is careful and spare.
A superb example is his first plate – asparagus, almond, black vinegar, yolk and wakame – with its surprising textures and flavours. The pickled asparagus was both velvety and crunchy, the dressing sweet and sour with an undertone of umami, the egg-shaped ball of foam delicious, light but slightly grainy with finely ground almond and a sprinkling of shaved duck-egg yolk and wakame, while finely julienned radish on the side added a fresh crunch.
Next came a small square of ikijime- killed trumpeter from southern waters, cured with fennel and horopito. It was topped with a salad of wilted kale, tiny potato balls and a sprinkling of crisp-puffed wild rice. Ikijime fish, line caught and killed with a spike in the brain, is both juicier and more humane, explains Kim. Again Sam has shown himself a master of texture and flavour with the soft, silky, sweet saltiness of the fish, the crunchy rice, the slightly chewy potato, and the freshness of the dressing and lemon gel.
Cauliflower with miso and furikake, was perhaps less successful. Despite the crunchy texture of a sprinkle of sesame and Japanese furikake seasoning, the brown, miso-glazed florets piled on a cauliflower puree had an aura of being overcooked.
To follow was venison with turnip, walnut and coffee. Wild-shot venison had been cured in a tare (Japanese BBQ sauce) and cooked sous vide. It was pink and richly flavoured under a shroud of compressed white-turnip slices, a sprinkling of freeze-dried parsley and slivers of shallot. Beneath was a savoury pickled-walnut-and- coffee puree that offered texture and a contrasting but complementary flavour.
Then for dessert the hazelnut, ginger, peanut butter, caramel and apple was a sweet deconstructed melee of crunchy meringue, crisp freeze-dried apple and refreshing hazelnut and ginger parfait on peanut butter.
Kim heads the small, efficient, very knowledgeable but slightly distant front-of-house team. Sam, emerging from the kitchen behind the counter, delivered one of the courses himself.
The drinks list is small but well thought-out, with nine out of the 17 wines available by the glass. The sauvignon blanc is from Martinborough rather than Marlborough, and bubblies include a sparkling shiraz served in a wide cocktail glass. From Central Otago there’s Valli’s orange wine, and several pinots. A couple of Australians, a shiraz and GSM, offer bigger flavours but there is no cabernet or merlot. However, there is a selection of dessert wines as well as Japanese and New Zealand whiskies, cocktails, and a small selection craft beers and ciders.
While Moiety may be casual in atmosphere, there’s nothing casual about this carefully considered restaurant with its serious attention to food. It aims to give a full dining experience rather than just feeding people, and asks diners to be open to trying things they wouldn’t normally order – they will cater for vegan or gluten-free diets or various allergies if you warn them when booking.