Jano Bistro – No Words

Damn guys – I don’t know if it’s just me, or has Wellington really stepped up their food game this year or what?? For years and years, I’ve been walking up and down Willis Street on the hike to Pipitea Campus or work, and every time I mustered up the energy to sit through a 2-hour lecture or a shift serving breakfast to groups of Contiki kids, I made sure I walked past the cute little villa next to The Bresolin. Back then, I never knew what Jano Bistro was, what it offered, and even if it served up food! But after last Saturday night, I now know it’s the home of inspiration culinary invention in the city of Wellington.

After finding out what Jano was actually all about, reading their insanely positive reviews, and peeking into their windows to see immaculate plates of food being served to flavour-seekers, I knew I had to come here. And you bet when my sister suggested we save up and finally take on Jano by force, I said yes before she could even finish asking the question. So last weekend, that’s what we did. And just like a new mum with baby pics, I’m showing photos of Jano’s meals to everybody who probably don’t care.

Okay, enough rambling about distant memories and pointless backstories – let’s talk about food. I’ll break it down for you course by course, just so you can get the real, in-depth lowdown of the dishes and their flavour profile. So, sit back with a cuppa and a snack, because I’m about to take you on a degustation journey.

Course 1: Amuse Bouche. Upon arriving and firmly letting the waiter know that we will DEFINITELY be ordering the wine matches with our 4-course degustation, we were surprised with a little pre-meal snack; a chickpea tostada with a courgette and tomato topping, and a kumura crisp topped with a parsnip cream and butternut squash ceviche. Although the size of a small biteful, these tasters packed a punch when it came to flavours. The tostada reminded me of a bite of ratatouille and brought a light and fresh flavour to my palette, whereas the Kumura crisp was heartier, richer, and induced memories of roasted winter vegetables. I would have never of thought that something so small could transport me to distant memories, but there you have it. Our degustation was off to a cracking start!

Course 2: ‘Hangi-style’ potato, oyster mushrooms, onions, sour dough bread. Whatever you picture when you read that dish summary, you’re wrong. When the plate was placed in front of us, I think every one of our expressions mirrored sheer surprise as we looked down onto this blob of potato cream topped with onion powder & sourdough croutons, that masked a collection of sautéed onions and mushrooms sitting in a pool of thick and velvety soup. I’ve never tried a Hangi potato in my life, but I’m gonna be bold and say no matter what type or how this potato was made, it’s the best flipping tattie I’ve ever had in my life. Ever. This potato paired with the sweet and umami onions and mushrooms, with a little crunch from the perfectly toasted croutons? Genius. It was French Onion Soup on steroids – no wait scratch that, it was French onion soup on ecstasy. Every bite was heaven, and I had to stop myself from licking the plate (I would’ve done if the waiter wasn’t watching, believe you me!).

Course 3: Sprouted buckwheat tart, butternut, celery, pumpkin seeds, truffle. After reading this courses summary, we all came to an agreement that we might be expecting a sort-of quiche-like affair, but with a little added Jano-pzazz. Instead we got served this incredible crunchy tuile ring, filled with layers of al dente sprouted buckwheat, a creamy butternut, celery, and salmon filling, with pops of truffle and nutty pumpkin seeds. I can only sum this meal up as the best fish pie I have ever damn tasted – and this girl LOVES a fish pie. The beautifully presented tart (that we were advised to smash with our spoon to eat – love the drama!) deceived us into thinking it was going to be mellow and light on the flavour, but in reality, is was punchy, rich, creamy, and above all, damn delectable.

Course 4: Celeriac, foraged herbs, ‘fishless’ soup. I had now clicked onto what Jano is best known for – deception. Basically, forget everything you know about what food looks or tastes like, because what they’re going to serve you will be the complete opposite of what you had imagined. Since the boyfriend and I are pescatarian, we opted for the fish course, whereas my sis is pretty much a carnivore, so of course she went for the beef cheek. I honestly never knew that celeriac could taste so incredible in so many different ways. We have ceviche, we had rotini, we had puree, we had soup, we had freeze dried, we had crisps. Every single variation of celeriac gave a different depth of flavour, and when paired with the meaty fish and pop of fresh pineapple –each mouthful was a culinary blessing.

Course 5: Chocolate, cinnamon, mandarin, meringue. You’d have thought we would be full by now, but no, there is ALWAYS room for dessert. At least in my tummy there is. Yet again, the meal description was super vague, and the suspense had us on the edge of our seat. But just like every other meal, we were hit with a wave of shock, curiosity, awe and excitement once we saw what were about to tuck into. Our plate was graced with a long rectangle of layered dark chocolate ganache and sablet biscuit, coated in a ruby chocolate glaze, with segments of mandarin, candied peel, chocolate twigs and scorched meringue shards, paired with a cinnamon crumb and cinnamon ice cream. Now it sounds like a lot, and I know people always bang on about how ‘Less is more” – but with this dish? More is more, trust me. Every single element of the dish complimented each other perfectly, and each brought either a sweet, salty, spicy, sour, and rich flavour to the dish which when tried together on one forkful, made for a flavour experience that was quite unreal.

Course 6: There’s a course 6?? We thought it was sadly over when our dessert plates were taken away, but little did we know that it wasn’t quite over yet. Suddenly, our wonderful sommelier sauntered up from the kitchen holding a plate of what I can only describe as the most beautiful and perfect macarons I’ve ever seen. Two little jade-green puffs of airy feijoa flavored macaron sandwiched together with a beautiful white chocolate ganache – nobody could resist a taste of these! The muted flavours were the perfect post-dessert petit fours, not too sickly sweet or tangy, and the perfect accompaniment to the last droplets of our dessert wine.

And that’s that! A pretty wild, magical and exciting culinary experience, huh? We came away with our tummies full, our words a little slurry, and our minds enlightened to what incredible food inventions our palettes were exposed to over 6 courses. The 4 Courses, plus wine matches, and some sneaky Amuse Bouches and Petit Fours, came to $125 pp. Now, that’s probably the most I’ve spent on a meal individually, but I hope after reading over each course, you can agree with me when I say it was worth it. I’ve already mentioned that the food was impeccable, but the service and location was just second to none. Our sommelier was also incredible, and he went over and beyond to cater to our non-alcoholic friend – offering some of their never-before-tried house-made lemonade (which was BEAUTIFUL), so that they could feel a little classy too. Our waitress did an excellent job of making sure we were all catered for, and even showed us how to properly eat the tart so we could add a little childlike excitement to our meal. Dining in Jano felt just like a dinner with friends and family, which is something most fine-dining restaurants can find hard to emulate. Don’t get me wrong, I love a super smart black-tie restaurant, but there’s something about Jano’s humble abode that lifts my heart. I don’t think you’ll be surprised when I give this place a 10/10 on the CCL scale. It honestly blew all of my expectations, and I can’t wait for anybody reading this review, to go and try it themselves.

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