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Review: The Option Bistro & Wines

We weren’t planning on ordering the snails, but the enthusiasm with which they are offered makes them hard to turn down. We’re catching up over a sumptuous dinner with globetrotting gourmands, realtors and former television journalists Sergio and Sabina Toader, the Romanian husband and wife duo behind The Option Bistro & Wines, and Sergio is insisting we try the escargot á la bourguignonne.

Reluctantly agreeing, I recall an ill-fated high school international food festival where I tried them for the first time and internally shudder at the rubbery, gritty and garlic-dirt-flavoured memory. Six large shells are nestled on a silver tray, filled with pools of golden garlic and herb butter. I gingerly pick up the first up with fancy silver snail tongs, dig out the black gastropod with a special fork and, without too much inspection, pop it into my mouth and chew.

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Either my palate has changed, or Miss Jacques had no business cooking snails, as these are sublime – delicate, earthy and rich with buttery garlic, they immediately erase the previous memory. I put the next one on the crostini and chase it with a sip of the Chablis wine match (at $23 for both wine and snails, this is a gastronomic steal!) for an exceptional French duet.

The first things we had noticed on entering were the seductive aroma of serious gourmet cred, then the familiar friendly face of legendary front of house extraordinaire and former Tiffany’s alumni Alastair Cavell, his bone dry wit and old world charm still intact and, if the number of diners hugging it out with him before leaving during the evening is any indication, still a draw card.

Taking over Jagz of Styx, the Toaders have taken their passion for pairing quality international fare matched with an outstanding international wine list to Northwood, serving it up in slick, Euro-chic surrounds where impressive wall-mounted wine ladders and white leather and chrome chairs meet stunning Schott Zwiesel crystal glassware, and purple highlights lend a regal touch.

The wine list is concise, yet epic in its reach, and includes a meticulously curated owners’ special selection in which wine connoisseur Sergio (who has the qualifications to back it up) has assembled a cellar where top Kiwi drops sit alongside renowned Argentinian, French, Italian, Lebanese, South African and Chilean wines, along with a Rosu de Purcari 2012 all the way from the Republic of Moldavia (and 10 wines listed in wine bible 1001 Wines You Must Try Before You Die).

I select Sam Neil’s Two Paddocks Picnic Riesling, a humming dry stone fruit and spicy number, noting we’ve ordered the tzatziki and dry sausages and pickled onions. The tzatziki comes with crostini and olives and is a creamy balance of cooling cucumber and a warming punch of raw garlic.

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The intriguing dry sausage, a locally made Romanian-style slanina, makes for moreish snacking with the salty, smoked paprika heat beautifully marrying with the acidic crunch of the pickled onions. It’s traditionally eaten between sips of Romania’s famously fiery 50% alcohol plum spirit Palinca de Ardeal Zetea and Tuica de Transilvania Zetea (also known as white lightning). They’re great winter warmers, with the Palinca being the fruiter of the two.

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We’re also treated to a silken housemade chicken liver pate before our mains arrive. When slathered over toasted bread with a feisty chutney it’s groan-inducingly good. Time for the main event: we’ve opted for the Oriental Pork Belly, all succulent and tender pork latticed with crackling and served atop crushed potatoes, with a rustic, chunky-cut apple sauce laced with cinnamon and an exotic dark sauce rich with star anise and other gastronomic opiates served on the side (pictured top). You can tell a lot about a restaurant by how they serve their steak, and the well-rested and respected fillet that also arrives at our table (the chef’s special Butcher’s Block) has a perfect, caramelised smoky exterior and is meltingly tender medium-rare beneath. A creamy parsnip puree, Portobello mushrooms and straight-up addictive red wine jus round out the premium plate of protein.

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We meet our sticky end with the decadence of a dark chocolate and walnut tart with a wickedly short, buttery crust, as well as the effortless seduction and old school charms of a ‘proper’ sticky date pudding, heavy with dates and drenched in the molten goodness of an authentic caramel sauce like your mum used to make (if your mum was a really, really good cook!).

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The Option Bistro & Wines
158 Hussy Road
03 323 5455
www.theoption.co.nz

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