If there was one word to describe Cocoro, it would be… well, to be honest, it would be many words. Exquisite. Superb. Spectacular. Faultless. Sensational. Perfection.
In March of this year, I was invited by Pamu New Zealand to dine at Cocoro, one of the three finalists in the nationwide ‘Pamu & Cuisine Deer Milk Ice Cream Competition 2020’ where chefs were tasked to create their very first Deer Milk ice cream dessert.
You may have heard of Deer Milk… it is like the caviar of milk. Rich and creamy, yet fresh and light. Fun fact: it is actually double the fat and double the protein of regular cow’s milk, making it the creamiest milk you will ever taste. It is also the first of its kind and is made by Pamu on their farm near Queenstown.
Co-Owner and Head Chef of Cocoro, Makoto Tokuyama’s creation was Deer Milk with Shio Koji Ice Cream Manuka Smoke, inspired to reflect Pamu’s deer farm on a Spring morning.
The combination of deer milk with shio koji (salt fermented rice) creates an umami rich ice cream flavour to represent a safari. The ice cream then sits on a layer of daifuku rice pastry for a unique Asian texture. The earth of the scenery is represented by the sesame and red bean crumble as the soil, sesame praline as the rocks, deer milk cheese as snowballs, yuzu powder and deer milk powder as snow, sansho (Japanese pepper) biscotti slices as fallen wood bark, crispy buckwheat noodles as wood twig, green tea tempura bits as the grass, while the Manuka smoke represents the morning fog. The foraged fresh herbs and edible flowers enhance the image with colours and the aroma from nature.
Cocoro’s dessert is the most S P E C T A C U L A R dessert I have ever seen and eaten. It is decadent and daring – to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy all the unique flavours, but all the elements in the dish balanced well. The deer milk ice cream on glutinous rice pastry was the highlight of the night!
Before being wowed by Cocoro’s dessert, we first indulged in their “Omotenashi”, a Japanese word which essentially means to wholeheartedly look after guests. If you choose to experience their nine course degustation, then Cocoro will provide you with the upmost incredible hospitality.
On a Wednesday night, we arrived at Cocoro about 5.30pm and left just before 10pm. While it was the longest dinner I have ever had, the whole experience blew my mind, from the beautifully presented and superb dishes, to the wonderful service and ambience. If you ever get the chance to dine at Cocoro, choose the “Omotenashi” and you will not be disappointed. Below are the dishes we savoured:
Course 1: Chef’s selections of ‘Zensai’ appetizers
Our first course of the night was ‘seasonal welcome snacks’ from the kitchen – a glossy lacquerware box arrived at the table, whereupon our waiter opened the doors to reveal three mini shelves with delicate plates of appetizers. We loved the deep fried Kingfish with ponzu, and rolled venison with kawakawa sauce – a very elegant start to our evening!
Course 2: Sashimi of Market Fish
Next, a platter of fresh assorted sashimi, served with South Island fresh wasabi and three different dipping sauces – ponzu, soy and sesame.
Course 3: Raukaka Bay Blue Paua ‘Chawanmushi’
Followed by ‘Chawanmushi’ which is essentially an umami packed Japanese savoury egg custard, and in Cocoro’s case, made with Raukaka Bay Blue Paua. It was served in beautiful Japanese tea cup, and the Chawanmushi itself was silky and delicate.
Course 4: Hokkaido Scallop Gratin
We loved the presentation of this dish – a single scallop, dissected, served in its shell on a bed of pebbles (reminded me of my childhood when my grandparents would take my sisters and me to rock pools to look for various sea creatures), accompanied by a fabulously creamy sauce made up of soy, miso and gochujang, topped with crispy breadcrumbs, fish roe and seaweed powder.
Course 5: Ora King Salmon Reconstructed “Chazuke”
My favourite dish of the night! Our waiter arrived at the table holding a black tea pot… she then poured this over our reconstructed rolled salmon sashimi dish, and Manuka wood-smoke filled the air! Check it out here.
Course 6: “Kurobuta” Berkshire Pork Belly
Our last savoury course of the night was a juicy, flavourful and tender pork belly served with gyoza fried dumpling, courgette, cabbage, wild foraged greens, housemade tartare, ginger and plum tamari sauce. Delicious.
Course 7: “Torotaku Hosomaki” Toro & Takuan Finger Roll Sushi – 100% farm raised Bluefin Tuna and smoked Takuan pickled daikon radish.
To Finish: Feijoa sorbet with G O L D leaf and Sake chocolate ganache squares, followed by the most beautiful dessert we have ever eaten – Pamu Deer Milk and Shio Koji Ice Cream Manuka Smoke.
A huge thank you to Pamu New Zealand and Cocoro for a night we will never forget!