Trust the Chef

The Monday Room's Joel Christian and Eeva Torvinen offer a dining experience that is equal parts approachable, refined, delicious, and downright fun.

Joel Christian and Eeva Torvinen
Pouring sauce on a dish.

I get ‘the fear’ when I’m put in charge of choosing a restaurant for a group and feel responsible for how the meal goes. And while this is irrational, I was still simultaneously relieved, delighted and not surprised when my pick, The Monday Room, was a smash hit.

I went all or nothing and took the in-laws to The Monday Room even though I’d not yet tried it myself. Their ‘Trust the Chef’ menu has some serious staying power on the Christchurch hospitality scene and feeling bold, I made a booking.

Enter owner Joel Christian and head chef Eeva Torvinen. Together the two host a dining experience that is equal parts approachable, refined, delicious and downright fun. The team hails from different parts of the world and hospitality backgrounds giving The Monday Room a real edge.

After working on all sides of hospitality here and abroad, Joel realised that all he had left to do was open his own restaurant. In 2016, he took over the The Monday Room at the original Moorhouse location and launched one of the first ‘Trust the Chef’ menus in the city. Joel’s mission? To marry European bistro fare with social, sharing centric dining. And as we experienced, this has been executed to a tee.

Eeva, originally from Finland, joined Joel at The Monday Room as chef de partie and began to slowly but surely wow the team with dishes like a liquorice blueberry dessert so good it made its way onto a magazine cover. Eighteen months ago, she stepped into the head chef role and managed to convince her best friend, Annika Kiviniemi, to come on board as sous chef. The trio have a perfect front and back of house symbiosis that creates a laid back, effortless feel for diners paired with elegant and experimental food.

When The Monday Room moved to their current location last year, the team’s chemistry was solidified. Everyone showed up to plaster walls and tile floors in an effort to open the new spot. Their new home is the only fully historical site left on southern High Street and the restoration was certainly worth it. It’s cosy and modern in the right proportions with exposed brick and steel, luxe carpets, mezzanine seating and funky light fixtures.

But even with such a stellar fitout, Joel and Eeva insist that everything at The Monday Room remain rooted in excellent food. All items are homemade and the two keep complete control over what ends up on diners’ plates. Fish is often caught by chef de partie, Andy. Fruit, veges and meats come from local farms. No corners are cut. While an a la carte menu is available, most diners opt for ‘Trust the Chef’, and it does not disappoint.

As a twenty something foodie I’m a bit wary of tasting menus that are more expensive than they are delicious and filling. But part of Joel and Eeva’s genius is that they have the know how to offer diners a beautiful spread of plates made from top quality, local ingredients without breaking the bank. With ‘Trust the Chef’ diners can relax - the team consistently presents and portions perfect representations of the seasonal menu and caters to dietary restrictions as well. The kitchen incorporates saltiness, sweetness, acidity, colour, starch and richness into every table’s array of sharing plates. Eeva’s creativity is apparent and small intentional details make for a multi-dimensional eating experience. It’s a comprehensive and fun way to dine.

For just $55/person we enjoyed starters to the tune of chicken and duck terrine with parsley and orange on crunchy sourdough, smoked monkfish with rhubarb, pickled fennel and dill mayo and spicy baked tofu with housemade kimchi, coriander, chilli and ginger. Mains included free range chicken roulade, mustard glazed pork belly with pickled granny smith apples, crackling and caramelised apple puree alongside several veggie plates that were just as exciting (veggies aren’t an afterthought here).

Our group tried dishes we normally wouldn’t order, found flavours that pleasantly surprised us, and a week later we were still talking about the delicious meal we had. We left too full for dessert but ready to do it all again soon. From the team, to the dishes and the unique atmosphere, The Monday Room is a true gem.

> Neat Places writer Olivia Sisson comes from the States and first discovered the Kiwi cafe scene in 2015 when she endeavored to try every savoury scone in the CBD. She’s back to finish the mission and loves foraging, craft beer and mochachinos even though they’re for kids.