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Review: Rogues of Rotherham

Whorls of smoke tumble and curl, revealing glimpses of what appears to be part-mad science experiment, but is actually all-genius culinary alchemy. The glass cloche is being teasingly raised on the ‘Terror Misu’, and white tendrils lazily unfurl across the table. Epitomising the gothic romance of Hammer horror, the dinner theatrics are a fittingly elaborate reveal of the decadent wickedness of Rogues of Rotherham’s signature shared dessert, and a lavish take on the Italian classic. As the smoke dissolves and awestruck diners return their attention to their own tables, chef Antony Page’s diabolical creation stands regally on display.
 
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There’s a tinge of guilt as we sink our spoons into the fishbowl-sized glass – like we’re about to trash a piece of fine art – and cut through Marsala-laced mascarpone cream crowned with shards of tempered chocolates, burnt toffee, salted peanut brittle and a scattering of tiny chocolate pearls and down on through to the espresso-stained sponge. The guilt is quickly replaced by ecstasy, as the symphony of slightly bitter espresso is perfectly balanced by the luxuriously light mascarpone and subtle sweetness of the Marsala, while the chocolate, toffee and brittle bring a satisfying textural crunch, and, in the brittle’s case, a delightful salty tinge which launches the dish into the stratosphere.
 
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Rocking some seriously swanky credentials, this oasis of effortless cool on Riccarton's Rotherham Road sports cascades of lights above the polished wooden-topped bar with a glinting copper edge (which carries through to the dining tables, where luxuriously tactile turquoise velvet booth seating meets gilded mirrors) and an impressive eagle-topped copper and brass espresso machine, while Rogue-fired pizzas are created in the cosy courtyard. We order two of the cunningly clever signature detox/retox cocktails as we peruse the menu; there’s The Green Juice Mule, which marries ginger beer, cucumber, green apple and celery with a slug of vodka to create a refreshing and considerably healthier than usual cocktail, and the Ginger Rogue (spiced black rum, Montenegro, fresh carrot juice and ginger), which becomes a fast, feisty favourite with its ginger hum.
 
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Our upbeat, friendly French waiter Jeremy Gaudin explains the menu and specials from behind a spiffy, retro-chic apron, advising that both sparkling and still water are available on tap along with a range of New Zealand beers and wines. We start with fried mozzarella (all molten and gooey goodness beneath the crisp golden exterior and paired with a tangy tomato whip) and duck liver pâté (silky-smooth with a rich, mellow flavour and an earthy, bittersweet crunch courtesy of a sprinkling of cacao nibs and paired with Marsala-preserved cherries). Creative pairings continue to wow in the mains of delicate, light pillows of savoury ricotta gnocchi that join wilted greens, the nuttiness of artichoke hearts, sweet cherry tomatoes and a tinglingly fresh lemon pesto, while meltingly tender slow-cooked beef cheeks flake effortlessly under the fork – the hearty beefy hit is complemented by the robust, earthy sweetness of beetroot polenta and the rustic, chunky freshness of a brilliant green broad-bean pesto. 
 
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Sides await in cast iron dishes served on wooden panels; here we find tiny, skin-on Venetian baby potatoes awash in a rosemary-spiked herbaceous butter, and the woefully underrated cauliflower finally getting its dues – all fried and crispy with the thrilling, punchy acidic tang of balsamic and the sweet reprieve of plump sultanas. 
 
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Even the sides are extending the gastronomic mastery – it seems likely that Rogues is set to remain forever in vogue. www.roguesbar.co.nz
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