You find a carpark before you have an argument about finding a carpark. You get the last table for two. The wine is only 11 bucks a glass and the kale fettuccine with black bisque sauce is the culinary equivalent of slipping into a polar fleece onesie.
You feel cosseted. Comfortable. It's like you're at home, but you're wearing shoes and someone else will be loading the dishwasher.
I am never this relaxed in Newmarket. Usually I'm running for the Outer Link, laden with receipts and regret. But there we were: Saturday night, in a restaurant next to an art gallery and across from a fashion design store, feeling pretty bloody smug.
The Candy Shop is an unpretentious gem about two minutes' walk from the Rialto Cinema. If you haven't added it to your list of date night options, you should.
A popular brunch spot, it has one of the city's more eclectic evening offerings. How did that happen, I asked?
"They were going to just do Kiwi food," explained our waitperson, "But then they thought, 'Well, we are Korean.' Also, one of the chefs just really likes pasta."
So that's kimchi on the best bowl of chips I've had this year and, based on the aforementioned fettuccine, I'll be giving the spaghetti and lamb meatballs a go next time.
There were some hiccups. We had arrived at a relatively early 6.30pm and the kitchen had not found its rhythm. We had a substantial wait for our first course and, at another table, one couple was served several looong minutes after the rest of their party. Maybe come here post-movie? It would be a shame to have to leave without pudding.
Hotteok ($9) is a sweet "pancake". Quote marks, because this Korean street food staple is not like any pancake you've previously piled with bacon and/or banana. Kind of a doughnut-meets-cinnamon bun, it's made from a yeast dough and stuffed with brown sugar and spices. Flattened and fried on the outside, gooey and sweet on the inside, this is the kind of dessert that makes winter bearable.
At the other end of the spectrum, skip the tiramisu ($12). It was a travesty of dry crumbs and zero flavour beyond a pile of freeze-dried fruit. A huge disappointment.
We had started by splitting a couple of small plates. Offerings include the fried chicken from sister eatery Simon & Lee, which is delicious but possibly less suited to The Candy Shop's aesthetic. Where the former is fast and casual, here I was happy to linger on a comfy leather stool. There's a mix of seating, including individual tables and large, shared spaces. I loved the giant concrete slab we were perched at, though I bet the waitstaff curse its awkward placement directly in front of the kitchen pass.
How was that service? Our cutlery was placed just so, our napkins refreshed throughout and an espresso came with an unasked-for shot of cold water. This kind of attention to detail normally commands a far higher cover price. Top marks.
I was glad we'd decided against the chicken. Wobbly, slightly crisp agedashi tofu came with a broth made sharp with slightly pickled shiitake mushrooms ($13) and I felt healthier just looking at it. A plate of spicy pork belly was — and this is not a word I'd usually use to describe the fatty undercarriage of a pig — elegant. It's no mean feat turning a cut this calorific into something so refreshing. A hit of gochujang, the crunch of papaya, apple, and fresh herbs and (incongruous, but perfect) soft cubes of pumpkin contributed to a seriously thoughtful $13 dish.
Agria chips ($10) arrived as a properly crispy, properly fluffy gateway carb to my main — that deep-green pasta in a thick bisque-flavoured sauce was studded with just-steamed cockles and plenty of prawn meat ($26). Gloriously salty and seafoody.
James was jealous. His beef short rib ($29) melted gloriously into a texturally complimentary salad (it included shredded, fried wonton skins) but a chilli "jam" was unexpectedly and unpleasantly bitter. More hotteok, stat.