The great chef and author, Anthony Bourdain, once mused “to want to own a restaurant can be a strange and terrible affliction. What causes such a destructive urge in so many otherwise sensible people?” So, when I heard Grey Lynn’s Jafa Café had been taken over during the twilight hours, by none other than a dentist, this quote was the first that came to mind. This pondering thought however, quickly diminished upon visiting. This dentist is a clever one—charming, too. He’s sourced the finest people to bring his dreams of owning an eatery to life. And it’s a fine eatery, if I do say so myself.
You’ll be welcomed with open arms by said dentist, Aftab Moosa. Executive chef is Ross Birch, known from his work at Citizen Park & Shed 5 in Wellington. Manning front of house is qualified sommelier, Gary Pretzer (from Gusto at the Grand and Harbourside). When the coffee machine retires for the day, the team spends time transforming the humble café to a slick restaurant thanks to dark table clothes, flickering candles and even a chandelier.
The menu changes every fortnight, giving the team a chance to experiment with seasonal and different ingredients—an exciting realm for chefs who are used to sitting on menus for months or even years at a time.
On this splendid evening my dinner date and I settled in to a window seat, drinks swiftly arrived alongside freshly baked artisan breads and whipped truffle butter. The smoked duck entrée boasted incredibly tender breast. The dish sweetened with papaya, juicy green tomatoes and delicate lychee. While the king salmon starter took on Asian flare with its accompaniments of pickled cucumber, avocado, wakame, radish and miso.
Up next was a melt-in-your-mouth (and generous) serving of rare-seared fillet of beef, sitting pretty next to a ragout of peppered beef encased in flaky pastry. I’m all about doubling up on meat. I mean, if you were going to have steak, why wouldn’t more steak be served alongside it? A smear of cauliflower puree and wilted kale balance the meatiness, kind of. I was hesitant to try the risotto, for the simple reason that I’m yet to come across a restaurant that does one well (dare I say). But since a chef’s risotto is a measure of his talent, in some respects, I succumbed to testing it in the name of research. And hello… it was perfectly al dente. The earthy mushrooms melt along with the butter and parmesan, raw enoki mushrooms atop add welcome texture and the blue cheese vinaigrette adds a pop of freshness as well as creaminess. If I fed this to my non-existent Italian nona, she’d be very proud of Birch.
Desserts are clever takes on the classics—eton mess, crème brulee with coriander, an artisan cheese board and a nod to their namesake ‘a taste of Jafa’ with mousse, sorbet and textures of chocolate and orange.
This pop-up bistro is one to put on your to-do list. I’m pretty certain if Anthony Bourdain paid a visit, he’d happily say the same.