Inti: The new South American restaurant by Javier Carmona

by Kate Richards / 18 August, 2017
Photos: supplied
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You might have an idea of what you think South American food is. It might include avocado, chocolate or corn – all of which are now commonplace on the New Zealand table, and most of which are not seasonally used around town. Or, your mind may wander to heavily spiced, slow cooked meat wrapped in tight tortilla parcels. At Inti, the new restaurant from chef Javier Carmona – formerly of Mexico, Oaken, and Beirut – all of your preconceived ideas will be turned on their heads.

Inti is in what used to be Meat Fish Wine, the short-lived restaurant serving expensive drinks and fancy steaks which received mixed reviews. It’s still owned by the same Melbourne-based hospitality group, Apples and Pears, but Carmona tells me that this time they’ve loosened the reigns, giving his restaurant more of a chance to become part of Auckland’s fabric than a direct lift and place from Australia.

Inside – in six weeks no less – the change is palpable. Gone are the dark blue walls, dressed-up wine cellar and over-the-top glass structure suspended from the ceiling, replaced by soft linens, lumpy Waihi-made Laughing Pottery ceramics and a blocky Flox mural of the restaurant’s namesake – the Incan sun god. They’ve removed a few of the tables, too, allowing the space to breathe.

Dishes are an extension of the assured cooking offered at Carmona’s most recent venture, pop-up restaurant Etxeberria. So, expect unusual ingredients presented surprisingly but with old-world charm. To eat here should invoke thought and Carmona has gone to great lengths to source foods which, while prevalent in South America, are more difficult to find in New Zealand. Ants and crickets come from Anteater in Christchurch, a special red-skinned red-fleshed potato called a PR1 is brought up from Southland and Carmona’s been on a special mission recently to find out why New Zealand hasn’t started growing more types of corn – he wants different colours.

Carmona tells me people tend to think of the food seasons in quarters, but in reality they don’t work like that. “You’ll get things like pomegranate and it’s in season for three weeks sometimes,” he explains, “and if you’re putting together a menu that’s going to run for the next three months, you won’t be able to put that dish on it.” Instead, he sees what’s seasonal as changing almost weekly, and his menu, printed on natural-looking, compostable paper, will change often to reflect that.

Auckland’s dining scene has changed in the five years since Carmona arrived, with many restaurants choosing to offer what food is available rather than what the customer expects. This movement towards a more sustainable, considered restaurant model means there won’t be year-round avocados on the menu at Inti, nor will there be a frittata – sorry Jesse Mulligan.

Inti
Corner of O’Connell and Chancery St
Central city

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