Be­yond ex­pec­ta­tions

The creme de l creme of wa­ter­front eat­ing — and ser­vice

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - RESTAURANT - Kim Knight

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?.

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