You'll have to forgive me; I still feel a little awkward pulling out my average camera in a beautiful restaurant. You'll have to imagine the meals as my poetic descriptions make your mouths water. The restaurant feels homely, like a warm and inviting dining room. We began with the organic homemade bread selection, which included squid ink grissini and a fresh, soft sourdough. Olive oil and butter were accompaniments, and it was beautifully done. We also ordered the warmed olives, which were lovely.
I was impressed that the menu is printed each day, to save wait staff memorising the specials. There is clearly a focus on local, in season produce. We each had a special of the day for our entrees; me the new season Nelson scallops on cauliflower puree with crispy pancetta, and him the new season asparagus with lemon oil and shaved pecorino cheese. My scallops were everything I'd hoped for; the puree was offset with the crispy, salty pancetta and as a dish it was perfectly balanced. I let the waiter match each of my courses with wine; and as I've mentioned before, I'm not pretending I'm an expert, but each match was simply superb. The Fisherman enjoyed the asparagus, but having perfected the roasting of asparagus ourselves, we both thought that while it was fresh and delicious it was simply a plate of asparagus.
By the main course I was a glass of wine, two gins and another glass of wine in. It was time to probe with the emotionally exhausting questions that had been playing on my mind for the last three months. Needless to say I got weepy, but I was constrained and my subtle tear dabbing did not distract from two sizeable main courses. I went for the lamb - it was a slow-cooked lamb rack, with saffron arancini, roasted shallot puree and spinach. The lamb was strong having been slow cooked. At times it verged on tasting fatty, but the depth of the shallots and the texture of the spinach cut through to form each beautifully balanced mouthful after mouthful. The arancini were nothing flash; I couldn't taste any saffron and the only interest they really added was texture, which was superseded by the side of rosemary roasted potatoes - and they were a feat of potato mastery. Their crispness did a far better job of soaking up the rich flavours on my plate. The Fisherman enjoyed a Prime Angus beef fillet, with fondant potatoes and curly kale as the winter greens. He dealt to most of the side of potatoes, and between mouthfuls we sniggered at Mr Too Cool and Ms Overly Keen on a date at the table next to us. My lamb was washed down with a 2005 Hawke's Bay Syrah; a blissful match.
The tears had dried by dessert. The Fisherman is a sweet tooth, and what may now be obvious, I enjoy all food, so we pored over the dessert menu for a while. I went with Valrhona chocolate and olive oil mousse. It was served with an almond sorbet and a slow poached, spiced tamarillo. The almond sorbet was so intensely almond, it tasted like christmas! Well, that almond layer under icing that goes on christmas cake sometimes....either way, god it was good. The Fisherman had a passion fruit creme brulee with a sesame crisp and greek yoghurt pannacotta. He loved it. I loved it. Dessert was a dream. For me it was washed down with a glass of dessert wine. I'm a little hazy, but I was told it would taste like drinking raisins. It was actually a sherry; a dark, rich layered sherry. I don't know it's name, sorry. But it was divine.
All in all, flawless service and beautiful food meant our evening at the Ambeli was a memorable one. Contrast that with the smarmy service and average food at Ortega next door a month earlier, and there is a clear winner in my eyes. It was a good choice, and on the back of our evening I'd say well deserved Cuisine awards. Emotionally it was a cathartic experience. I said what I needed to say, and that's that really. Whether our deal continues will remain to be seen, but in the meantime I relish being taken out for dinner! At the Ambeli or elsewhere.