South of Auck­land one can find gas-tron-omic de­lights

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - Kim Knight

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.

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