One of the wackier places I've visited recently, Vodka Room is Ponsonby's newest bar/restaurant. Picture chandeliers hanging from the glass ceiling of an outdoor courtyard, plush red velvet couches and an extravagantly shiny gold wall inside. Catering for any occasion, it's open seven days a week. It's a busy, energetic environment that boasts six seating areas and three bars spread across two floors, with a private function room and two karaoke rooms that can be rented on an hourly basis. The karaoke rooms house one of the best features of all— a PRESS FOR VODKA button, designed for continuous pressing during fierce renditions of 'My Heart Will Go On'.
Vodka Room, true to its name, is home to 125 different vodkas, with an aim to reach 175. If vodka tasting is your thing, this place is fully equipped to give you the most informed experience possible. If not, there are a range of cocktails to pick and choose from. The infused vodkas will send the indecisive into a panic; with flavours like blueberry and basil, and chilli and cinnamon, the sensible option would be to return multiple times to try them all. The Black Bear ($16) with blackberry infused vodka and lime is one to try, as is the Plum Caiprioska, with damson plum vodka and lime, served over a pile of crushed ice.
The food is modern Russian, and is excellent. Come with an empty stomach and a group of comrades because this is a menu you'll want to explore. Split into small cold dishes, small warm dishes and larger dishes, we found that three small cold and one small warm dish was plenty between two of us. The stand-out was the Olivier Salad ($25 with prawns, $16 without), an interesting and exciting mix of new potatoes, apple, gherkin, quail eggs and the tastiest sour cream and dill dressing with hints of cayenne and truffle. It's a salad I would happily eat every day of the week. The Vareniki ($18 for 6) were also superb. They're pan-fried potato and cheese dumplings with crispy onions, truffle butter and herbs galore. Save this one for cheat day, because it's a dish you want to enjoy sans guilt. Although slightly salty, the Akaroa king salmon gavlax which is cured in, you guessed it, vodka, is a crowd pleaser. As are the blini rolls— a take on the classic, these rolled crepes enclose a creamy mixture of Russian king crab and salmon, served atop crunchy pickled cucumber strips.
It was dark when we left, which brought to our attention the ceiling of fairy lights strung over the outdoor balcony at the front of the restaurant, looking over Rose Road. Vodka Room is an oddly eccentric, in your face mish-mash of colours, textures and sounds, but it works.