The creme de l creme of waterfront eating — and service
They were locked in embrace. Hot and heavy. A couple, down the back of the Viaduct’s newest restaurant, devouring each other.
I checked the bill. I paid the bill. They were still kissing. I was glad I’d finished eating.
Just before chef Simon Gault opened this restaurant, he told the Herald he wanted patrons to feel like they were in someone’s home. I think he probably meant the dining room, not the bedroom, but it’s the Viaduct, right? Loud and lurid, loose and louche. Anything (and anyone) goes.
In fact, Gault is hedging his bets. Because while his menu rewards hedonists (the “social feasts” sometimes run to an entire baby pig) you can also bring your children here for a $28 kids’ TV dinner (two types of chips, two types of pasta and a treat on a tray).
We were three grown-ups, including a visitor from New York. She liked the discreet silver fern motif carved into the wooden tabletops, but raised a serious eyebrow when the waitperson who brought our desserts pulled up a chair and launched into an extraordinarily detailed description of everything on our plates, his fingers jabbing perilously close to the food.
“Is that normal?” asked our guest. “I hope not,” I replied.
Until then, the service had been splendid. It included tips on the best times to visit Auckland Art Gallery (daily guided tours at 11.30am and 1.30pm) and invaluable ordering advice.
Listen closely when you’re told the “cold” and “hot” dishes are on the small side. The “staff chicken”, for example, was as plump and succulent as a baby’s palm — and about the same size. Under guidance, we supplemented it with a dish of crunchy deep-fried chicken ($15) from the bar menu.
Start with a “chef’s snack” because it’s bound to be interesting (the week before our visit, the list had included pig’s tails).
Beef tendon crackers? A time-intensive piece of gastronomic magic in which connective tissue is made delicious via soaking, cooking, pressing, slicing, dehydrating and deep-frying ($9).
Smoked kahawai butter? That’s actual butter, sweet with fish, earthy with turmeric, served on a river stone and excellent with a plate of unadorned raw root vegetables ($14).
I very much liked the trevally crudo ($28) that pitted satiny fish against the toothy chew of marinated shiitake mushrooms and, I think, a splash of grapefruit. It was the lightest of everything we ate from a menu that was creamier than a bridal boutique.
The delicately delicious Waikanae crab ($32) was soaked in creme fraiche, with pops of jalapeno and an extra crash of the ocean from waving bonito flakes.
Pinched ravioli ($32) was plump with shredded, milk-braised pork shoulder and sat in a creamy puddle. The pasta was thicker than I’m used to, but Gault says that’s intentional — the dough calls for 16 egg yolks per 300g of flour.
Vegetable sides further indulge the C-word. There is creamed spinach and creamed butternut and a potato gratin that, I’m betting, also contains cream. We ordered plain charred broccolini ($12) and triple-cooked chips ($15).
The latter arrived, fence-post thick, individually wrapped in pancetta, deep-fried in duck fat, and blobbed with smoked ricotta. Best chip in Auckland? I would definitely eat them again (and again).
And so to those desserts (all $16) and that waitperson. Left to our own devices, we probably could have figured out the rice pudding contained rice and the chocolate pudding contained chocolate. Maybe some people like the personal touch, but I just wanted him to get his hands away from my plate. The brulee won the table’s vote, and the rose-scented, oozy-centred chocolate cake came a close second. The rice pudding sat alongside an exquisite earl grey tea sorbet, but the main point of the dish was dull and gluggy. Maybe it needed more cream?.