Herald rating: * * * * 1/2

Hiroshi Miyata, owner of new Sake bar 601 in Morningside. Photo / Babiche Martens
Consuming professional that I am, let me say up-front that I’m not a huge fan of much Japanese food. We ate it twice last week. The second time was really, really good.

Maybe it’s feeling out of depth with how the menu works or how much to order (it’s always too much). And it’s no use asking your waitress. Either she understands the menu but not English, or has marvellous diction but no communication skills.

The meal arrives in an exquisite laquered box that should hold the Crown Jewels (and if you’re not sure what you’ve ordered, may), or a bonsai arrangement where you’re not sure which bits you nibble and which are decoration. The first place was like that. I thought one item on my tray was a twig. Jude thought it was a dried snake, but she had her glasses on. Either way, I poked but did not ingest.

By the way, do many women who gorge themselves thin on sushi and sashimi, condemn whaling and douse themselves in Eau de Whatever know that a key ingredient of perfume is whale sick? No? I thought not.

The second place is called 601, for the plain and simple reason that it’s at 601 New North Rd, in the Morningside shops. Remember those words, plain and simple.

It’s stark, white and infinitesimal. If it seats 20 at the tables, couches and bar, I’d be surprised. That’s why it pays to book. The first time we fronted, I hadn’t. Fortunately the equally welcoming Winehot is two doors down.

Hosts are Hiroshi Miyata, previously chef at Katsura in the Rendezvous Hotel when he wasn’t surfing at Piha, and Gen Ogata from Tanuki’s Cave, a delightful maitre d’ who’s as far from anyone depicted in paragraph 2 as you could wish.

The tight menu is in Euro format. Another mark for plain and simple. And yet another for the wilfully un-fussy presentation. None of that tosh about food as edible origami – it’s served neatly and elegantly on little white plates that seem to be moulded from foil picnic platters.

There are a few beers and fewer wines on the list. There are a few more sakes: light-flavoured rose did for me, sweet plum wine for Jude. “All the ladies like it,” promised Ogata, and she did. Twice. Because this is a neighbourhood place, they follow the civilised custom of BYO on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Miyata and Ogata aren’t only the bosses, they’re the whole staff. Ogata explains the dishes, offers advice and takes the orders; rather like an infomercial gadget, Miyata slices and dices and chops and cooks in the open kitchen, and chats with the customers.

Kumara chips, scented with sesame seeds, and a plain and simple salad dressed with a subtle vinaigrette born of sesame oil and umeboshi vinegar, made a refreshing start. Jude ordered sashimi – snapper, salmon and tuna that were possibly still quivering.

We shared, as with my curried snapper skewers. Curry rather overpowered the fish, I thought.

601ChefHiroshiMiyataSurfBoardThe rather Westernised mains include steak, corn-fed chicken, fish, lamb leg steak or tofu (I refuse to call bean-curd “steak”), cooked as you want: my steak wasn’t wagyu but still tasty, quickly and expertly cooked. Jude’s prawns may have arrived wrapped in the most sublimely executed tempura in Auckland: light, crisp, savoury. On the side, bowls of sticky wild brown rice, stronger-tasting and more interesting than the gunk in so many other places.

You can’t ignore a dessert called “moffle”. Miyata’s invention is a cross between traditional “mochi”, or sticky rice cake, and a waffle. You spoon red bean puree or blueberries and cream into the segments, and chew.

This feast, and drinks, set us back the whopping sum of $88, and by this time it was only a question of 4 or 5 stars. The two women at the next table eyed our moffle and thought they’d have one too, even though they had to get to the movies in town. “It’s our first time here,” said the one in the blue top, “but we’re going to spread the word.”

“So are we,” said Jude. And here it is.

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