Despite fresh jungle-themed wallpaper and new lampshades that look like swollen eel traps, Pico Bar + Eatery is still easily recognisable as the old Zibibbo. But the significant change is that this Wellington institution is no longer so much a restaurant as a bar with good food.

It’s still part-owned by Zibibbo’s Adam and Nicola Newell, but nowadays they are silent partners, in conjunction with their former chef, Ariki Rei. During his 20 years in the kitchen, Rei has done the hard yards at high-end places such as Shed Five and this shows in his beautifully garnished plates. Yet at heart Rei’s tastes remain colloquial, as seen in the menu section headed Kiwi Classics which, rather amusingly, includes mince on toast. However, this beef is prime Angus, you understand, while the toast is ciabatta, the egg is free range and the dish comes with Worcestershire butter. Another delightful compound butter, this time mixed with truffle mash, accompanies the complimentary bread served on arrival.

At the heart of the menu are 10 wellconceived tapas. Tokyo fried chicken, in particular, is emerging as Rei’s signature dish: chicken pieces are marinated in citrussy-soy ponzu, rolled in cornflour, deep-fried and then glazed in a pan with more ponzu, before being served with edamame beans, pickled daikon, intensely scented coriander microherbs and Japanese kewpie mayonnaise.

Safety concerns about leaving an egg emulsion mayonnaise out on a bench all afternoon have driven Rei’s decision to use kewpie, which also pops up unannounced with the cauliflower fritters – battered florets pre-cooked with mild curry seasoning. Rather cleverly, the accompanying drunken sherry raisins and caper popcorn are also minced together to form an enticing sweet-sour relish.

Crab and sweetcorn empanadas with tomato salsa and fresh lime combine the flavours in wellmeasured proportion, with the sweetcorn complementing rather than overpowering the sweet delicacy of the crab. Essentially these empanadas are little pies and as such are designed to appear comfortingly familiar to parents and especially to children.

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