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Tin Soldier (Auckland)

151 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, ph: 09-378 1719

by Sarah Wall | Cuisine issue #155 | Friday, 7 December, 2012
Hans Christian Andersen’s Steadfast Tin Soldier had only one leg, the tin he was cast from not quite stretching to the final limb. Ponsonby Rd’s Tin Soldier is also one-legged (at least as depicted on the restaurant’s signage – elsewhere he’s been seen striding across buses, perhaps with a prosthesis), but is otherwise enjoying considerably more fortune than its namesake.

While the fairy-tale soldier was eaten by a fish and consumed by fire, this one has been harnessing fish, fowl, beast and flame to best advantage, steadily amassing fans since it opened in June.

A solid opening sortie was made with the appointment of head chef Stephen Smith (ex-TriBeCa), whose best creations are beautifully textured, flavourful and very pretty.

Casual is hot right now in the restaurant world and Tin Soldier cheerfully embraces the trend, with bare white tables, paper place mats and menus, and the recommendation that you opt to share dishes. The menu divides these into small and large plates – the former are rather more prosaic, with comfortingly starchy and fatty options that cry out for a beer or three to accompany them. Five-spice buttermilk fried chicken wings could do with a bit more oomph in spice and seasoning, but the coating is crisp and the meat tender. “Fish pie” is actually shells of crisp-roasted baby potatoes stuffed with smoked fish, chives and mash; ham hock or battered mussel jammers are Tin Soldier’s take on that Auckland snack du jour, the slider.

The large plates better showcase the kitchen’s inventiveness, with layers of flavour and texture coming together happily. Soy-glazed pig’s cheek is a neat combination of sweet-glazed pigginess, puffed up crispy skin, earthy shiitake, clean, lightly bitter bok choy, and numerous other delicious elements.

Master-stock-poached poussin delivers moist and tender meat, finished with a pleasant smokiness from the grill and adorned with sweet spirals of coconut cream and peanut sauce. A julienned snow pea salad adds cleanliness; ginger popcorn a bit of spice and crunch.

Tin Soldier’s flavours of Milo dessert has quickly and deservedly gained a degree of cult fame. It’s accompanied by churros that surely rank among the city’s best – pleasingly crisp outside, fluffily light inside and generously coated in sugar and cinnamon. A tin mug holds a mash-up of “milk sorbet, coconut snow, malt and ginger nuts” that’s gloriously reminiscent of digging into the chocolatey chunks of a milky Milo.

A deconstructed apple crumble is enjoyable, but perhaps a little too clever – dehydrated blueberries, roast apple wedges, a deliciously tart Granny Smith sorbet and a set vanilla custard are sprinkled with Anzac-biscuit-like crumbs. The components are all well executed, but as a whole don’t quite deliver enough buttery, sugary comfort.

There’s some disparate theming going on in the restaurant, as an army aesthetic does battle with urban-bistro chic. Some dishes are served in mess tins, while others are lovingly arranged on earthy-toned plates. The waitstaff wear oversized khaki shirts, but the dainty pot plants and Spanish moss-covered hanging shades don’t look as if they’d provide much cover under fire. Overall, though, it’s an interesting, if slightly eclectic, space.

Boundary Rd, Carlsberg and Dedwood Brewing Co IPA are on tap, and a number of local and offshore craft beers are available by the bottle. The wine list offers a host of familiar but appealing Kiwi options, plus a select few Aussies, and there’s a good range available by the glass.

Waitstaff are friendly and keen to please, though some are still perfecting their drills when it comes to in-depth knowledge of the menu and wine list.

Tin Soldier is a fun, friendly and flavourful place to eat and a welcome addition to the ranks.

Tin Soldier
151 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby,
ph: 09-378 1719,
Lunch Thurs-Sun, dinner Tues-Sun
Large shared plates $19.50-$29.50


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