Inti elevates street-food dishes into something special

by Simon Farrell-Green / 20 April, 2018

Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read

Cactus “guacamole”, with seaweed, almond, coriander and avocado leaf.

Cactus “guacamole”, with seaweed, almond, coriander and avocado leaf. Photo/Ken Downie.

RelatedArticlesModule - Inti related

Inti is now closed

Simon Farrell-Green reviews Hispanic restaurant and Metro Top 50 2018 finalist Inti.

Inti is a big, high-ceilinged space in the bottom of Shortland Chambers at the top of O’Connell St. It was formerly the home of Meat Fish Wine, which opened with an expensive fit-out, a huge wine cellar, lots of PR — and mixed reviews.

MFW didn’t last long, but the owners held on to the site and had the wisdom to give Javier Carmona — formerly of Mexico, Beirut and a very popular pop-up in Avondale — his own restaurant, named after the Incan sun god, Inti.

The focus this time is on the food: most of the fit-out is left over from MFW, which isn’t a bad thing since they invested heavily in some beautiful wooden chairs and a striking bathroom that has one-way glass back out to the restaurant and centres around a gigantic round concrete trough with sensors to make the taps go. The walls have been repainted an earthy, restful sort of grey-brown.

It’s billed as a trip through Chile, Peru and Mexico, riffing on empanadas and tostadas, ceviche and guacamole. Only, in Carmona’s hands, these humble street-food dishes ascend to something radically different. They are better versions of themselves.

A monkfish bacalao comes in a perfect circle, with melon and cucumber and samphire arranged deftly on top like scales, the bacalao cured and salty and somehow creamy, offset by a careful web of acidity from the greens.

A guacamole is made from cactus and comes with edible flowers and a dehydrated avocado leaf put deftly on top. A dish of “green chorizo” is topped with a 65-degree egg, draped over a pile of chorizo meat — no sausage casing in sight — and accompanied by a perfect piece of red-veined sorrel. You eat this food with your eyes. Then you eat it properly, and you’re surprised yet again by the depth and breadth of the flavours, at once citrus, sweet and smoky.

The confusing thing about Inti? It’s always empty. I sat there on a weekday for lunch and had the entire place to myself. Another time, it was a Saturday night and there were, oh, half a dozen tables with people at them. The food is fantastic, the service is helpful, considerate and well-paced, and there’s a good wine list that runs through some interesting New Zealand wines contrasted with South Americans at excellent prices. The ceramics are beautiful — water comes in hand-made cups; every plate is a triumph. As a friend said the other day, people should be queuing out the door. Surely — surely! — it’s not because we’re afraid of menus with lots of xs?

For that lunch, I started with a dish of two arepas, perfectly crunchy on the outside and just cooked on the inside. One was topped with grilled capsicum, white anchovies and edible flowers, the other with guacamole and perfectly grilled single rounds of leek. Next, I ate steak grilled in jamon fat and served on a skewer, which was tender and medium rare, offset with a zesty green sauce of “lettuce juice”. And then I ate a little piece of John Dory Veracruz, just translucent in the middle, served with a smoky tomato salsa, slices of fennel heart and candied ginger, flavours at once indefinable and familiar. It’s food meant for sharing, but it’s just as good alone.

Equally, you might start with salsa tarasca, made from pumpkin seeds and peanut, served with a perfect milk bun and a cricket panucho — a refried tortilla that on the street is stuffed with refried beans but here comes with cricket (!) flour. We had a rice tostada — crunchy and light — with tomato, achiote (a kind of mild peppery spice) mushroom and black ant powder, which sounds overblown but was actually deft, fresh and at once strange and familiar.

And we had tlayuda, a selection of vegetarian dips that comes on a fried tortilla: you break off a bit and pick up a bit of this or that, including a spectacular dish of grated pumpkin with a smoky sort of spice and that bacalao, and some Oaxaca cheese. It was the highlight of our night; I was disappointed it didn’t make the new menu, but maybe it’ll come back.

And so you sit there at Inti, in that big high-ceilinged room, and you watch Carmona running the pass in elegant fashion, talking waiters through new dishes — the menu changes often, in a sort of hyper-seasonal way. And you think: this is fantastic.

 

Inti
Corner O’Connell and Chancery Sts, City.

This review was published in the March - April 2018 issue of Metro.

LatestDiningArticlesWidget - Latest Dining Articles with RestaurantHub
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

As a young reporter, I went undercover to expose the Ku Klux Klan
95069 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z History

As a young reporter, I went undercover to expose t…

by Dick Lehr

How a young reporter infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan - and discovered the truth about its conman leader David Duke.

Read more
The EV battery scare shows the urgent need to support green technology
95080 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Environment

The EV battery scare shows the urgent need to supp…

by The Listener

With nearly half of New Zealanders considering buying an EV in the next two years, the results could be electrifying.

Read more
Limits don't apply to dancer Aloalii Tapu's work
93844 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Arts

Limits don't apply to dancer Aloalii Tapu's work

by Kate Richards

Otara-raised Aloalii Tapu uses a myriad of dance influences to express his ideas about manhood, suicide and post-colonialism.

Read more
The artist and poet who refused to play by the narrow rules of NZ art
94118 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Arts

The artist and poet who refused to play by the nar…

by Sally Blundell

Decades in France have made Douglas MacDiarmid an elusive figure in NZ art history. A new biography delivers a vital portrait of the 96-year-old.

Read more
12 of the best op shops in Auckland
95053 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Where to go in Auckland

12 of the best op shops in Auckland

by Vomle Springford

With Auckland’s high cost of living, it can be hard to fork out for new clothes, or new anything really. But op shops are plentiful here.

Read more
How virtual reality can help us understand how we think
95019 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Psychology

How virtual reality can help us understand how we …

by Marc Wilson

When you're flying through the air like superman in virtual reality, chances are you'll brace for impact at landing.

Read more
Where to eat this ski season
94882 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Food

Where to eat this ski season

by Kate Richards

A trip to the snow doesn’t have to mean a diet of hot chips and sad hotdogs.

Read more
Simon Bridges' spending leak: Hunt for leaker begins
95064 2018-08-16 10:38:12Z Politics

Simon Bridges' spending leak: Hunt for leaker begi…

by Jo Moir

All eyes are on National Party MPs, the office of the Speaker and Parliamentary Service now the hunt for the leaker has begun.

Read more