RESTAURANT + WINE
South of Auckland one can find gas-tron-omic delights
Palate; Special occasions
In 2014, I went to Hamilton for lunch.
In a resulting newspaper story I made the case for the City Of The Future as a city that also did interesting things with pig’s ears.
I recall phoning fellow food critic Jesse Mulligan for a quote. He was born in Hamilton. He told me one of his earliest childhood dining memories was a restaurant where they dimmed the lights during the main course and played a slideshow illustrating different breeds of cow.
At Palate, on Easter Saturday just gone, the cow was tequila coffee-cured reserve beef eye fillet. It was served with fried okra, celeriac, jalapeno, and crisp tendons ($19.50). There was no slideshow, but I wouldn’t have minded extra guidance — there was a lot of information on my plate.
The meat was thinly sliced, but texturally dense. Almost-waxen discs of protein were laden with bubbly, puffy blobs of tendon that shattered like a fatty rice bubble. I thought the okra was superfluous, but mostly I loved this rich dish, whacked back into balance with that hot-cold pile of jalapeno-infused shredded celeriac.
Will the judges agree? Palate has entered its beef carpaccio entree and a lamb cutlet and shank main in the Silver Fern Farms Restaurant Awards. They’ve clearly got form, because accolades from previous years are displayed in the women’s loos. To be fair, the available wall space in the main dining room is mostly windows.
I am in awe of the Waikato River — that unsettling, slightly ominous sinew of deep, dark water that has such a visceral presence in this part of the country — and Palate has ringside views of its bush-clad banks. The outside is echoed inside, with an elemental fit-out featuring real flames at the bar and nikau-frond green accents on the perspex light shades.
In short, a stylish space. We had changed for dinner, but don’t judge the man at the next table just because he has worn truly terrible shorts to a $19-a-glass-of-wine restaurant — judge him when he starts shouting, drunkenly, at his dining companion. “Duck!” he shrieked. “Duck! Duck! Duck!” (Perhaps he was angry there was no slide show?).
Anyway, at our table where we were actually ordering the duck and not a round of profanities, James was in raptures. The menu specified a Cambridge pedigree for the seared and perfectly rendered breast and shredded confit meat and it came with beetroot, liquorice and a citrus-braised endive ($19.50). It was hard to imagine a plate that might better evoke autumn in this river city.
Palate does great meat. The online menu lists a rib-eye main, but the night we visited the steak dinner ($38) was actually a steep cliff of that reserve eye fillet. The star attraction was pink and juicy, but best supporting act of 2018 (so far) goes to the blue cheese pudding that came with it. More please.
Actually, I was very, very content with my venison loin. The lean and minerally meat came with three large truffle-flavoured arancini. These were amazing — moist and (I think) a little bit cheesy. A geometry puzzle of baby leeks adorned the dish. Squidgy and oniony. So good that I bought four bunches at the farmers’ market the next day (also approximately 10 tonnes of coriander for $5 and the best brisket bun I’ve had anywhere in the country, but I am getting ahead of myself — first we had pudding).
Back at Palate, the excellent service had included a very patient explanation of the wine list. That Takapoto Estate pinot noir might be made in Central Otago, but the winemaker is a Karapiro local. Sold!
Nicely blurred around the edges, of course we had room for a baked custard with a limoncello sorbet and an orange panna cotta with liquorice icecream ($16.50). The liquorice ice cream was controversial (I loved it, James didn’t) and I am very much over freeze-dried fruit sprinkles — just too sharp on the taste buds — but these are tiny complaints. Palate pleased the palate. The Tron continues to gas-tron-omically impress.