Ponsonby-based bar-restaurant Vodka Room has launched a $20 shared lunch board for time-pressed diners that takes a week to create and ‘retains slow food tenets’.
Vodka Room’s chef, Murray Wiblin (formerly head chef at Hotel DeBrett and executive chef charged with the launch of Ebisu, Tyler St. Garage and Fukuko), has announced the launch of a “Rush In Lunch Board” at the Russian-inspired concept venue on Rose Road.
“Our generous Rush-In Lunch Board comes out fast and is perfect for a quick, shared lunch, but every element represents our strongly held slow-food tenets,” says Wiblin. “When you look at all the elements here and the respective techniques used to craft each component, it takes just over a week to bring one board together. This is food done the old-fashioned way – prepared by hand for not just nourishment but love, warmth and survival. And with an affordable price point that makes it accessible.”
Wiblin goes on to describe the elements of the lunch board.
“Kneaded by hand, our black bread reflects the changing seasons – its current incarnation incorporating toasted caraway, cumin, coffee grounds, dark cocoa and unrefined molasses. The kimchi and pickles are fermented on-site, the butter is churned and cultured in our kitchen and the salo, our preserved acorn-fed pork belly, is cured here too.”
A border with Korea has influenced Russian cuisine, says Wiblin, which includes the adoption of kimchi. “Vodka Room’s version of kimchi utilises wombok, an Asian cabbage, which is firstly salted and pressed for two days then dried before being rubbed with a house-made paste comprised of spicy Korean chili flakes, garlic, sugar and salt. In Russia and Korea this would then be put into large clay pots before being buried in the ground with just the lid popping out. This does two things – it lets the kimchi be accessed whenever needed and keeps it at a very consistent temperature which helps slow the fermentation process. Ours is vacuum-packed and kept on ice to achieve a constant cold temperature.”
Wiblin explains that salo is akin to an Italian lardo, a cured pork back fat with very little meat on it. “It is so soft it literally melts in the mouth when you bite it. We tried many varieties of pork to get the right end-product, settling on a Spanish acorn-fed pork belly which also has the addition of a creamy nuttiness. We cure the pork belly with a mix of salt, pepper, raw garlic and bay, we then leave it in a dark cool place for 2-3 days before washing off and freezing, the freezing allows us to cut the salo wafer-thin.”
“Ikra, or ‘poor man’s caviar’, so-named for the jewel-like appearance created by the variety of seasonal vegetables used to make this dish—it is slowly cooked in a large pot with each ingredient added at just the right time and sequence. The addition of smoky paprika, zesty lemon, tomato, garlic, fresh herbs and cider vinegar bring this wonderful combination alive. We then balance these intense flavours with a whipped soft goat cheese, combining it with local clover honey, thyme and Tahitian vanilla.”
To round out each hand-cut New Zealand native wood board, sourced from a supplier in Clevedon, a main component dish of either shashlik (chargrilled slow-cooked beef featherblade or pork belly), vegetarian stroganoff (a mushroom gnocchi dish), or kotleta (a light fish cake) goes out with the Russian antipasti. Wiblin confirms locally-sourced produce is used whenever possible and that main components will change seasonally.
Vodka Room, open seven days, has recently garnered praise from food writer Kim Knight, and food writer Ray McVinnie.
Once the gallery of artists Karen Chan and Ronald Andreassend, Vodka Room quietly opened in January 2017 after a challenging refurbishment project spanning two years. Architect Bruce Mitchinson of Mitchinson Simiona, whose portfolio includes restorations for Hotel DeBrett and the General Buildings, and designer Stewart Harris of Macintosh Harris, whose portfolio includes The Westin Hotel (Auckland) and Hotel St Moritz (Queenstown), worked with Vodka Room’s owner-operator to bring their concept venue to life in Ponsonby.
A wrought-iron gate gives way to a two-storey building encompassing six unique dining areas that spread out across both indoor and outdoor spaces. A glass-roofed courtyard, three bars and two private dining rooms (which also double as karaoke rooms) and a further function room for up to 70 guests create options for both intimacy and sociability. The space houses chandeliers and reclaimed rough-sawn timber, floral reliefs and shipping containers, which intersect in a light-hearted expression of the contrasts inherent in the owner’s faraway homeland. The primary brief behind the design of Vodka Room, however, was to create escapist spaces that serve to bind people together – sharing time. This sharing ethos is also evidenced in the design of the menu and the drinks list.
A semi-open kitchen, the beating heart of Vodka Room, offers a modern interpretation of traditional Russian fare. The peasant origins of each dish, plated to encourage sharing, have been adapted to make dishes feel lighter. For example, the use of chili and kimchi in the pelmeni dumplings or gnocchi in the stroganoff. Seasonal ingredients, a slow-food approach to bringing out the best in produce and traditional techniques to cure, bake, pickle, or culture are central to chef Murray Wiblin’s approach.
More than 150 fine vodkas, painstakingly collected, range from rare limited batches to widely celebrated brands. Highlights on the drinks list include house-made infused vodkas, flights of four different vodkas that allow for vodka tastings and 200ml carafes of vodka for sharing at a table.
5 Rose Road, Ponsonby | 09 360 50 50 | email@example.com