RESTAURANT + WINE
Attention to detail from whoa to go
Williams Eatery; Two gris and a noir
There is no art on the walls at Williams Eatery. Because have you been to Wynyard Quarter on the weekends? Hectic. Heaving. Borderline bloody hysterical if you are trying to find a car park.
“We wanted to create a haven,” said our waitperson.
Grey concrete and warm paint. Blond oak tables and smoky gold lights. And breeeeathe — someone will be right along with something delicious.
Technically, Williams Eatery is in Wynyard Central (not Quarter), which literally sets it apart from the wood-fired and deep-fried main drag. It opened as a daytime cafe earlier this year and had only been doing dinner for two weeks when
Canvas stopped by. We quibbled over the design aesthetic. “Minimalist,” said James. But feature writers never use one word when two will do. “Monastic luxe,” I said, feeling even more justified when I googled “goma dofu”.
In Japan, this set sesame custard is apparently very popular with Buddhist monks.
At Williams, it has been combined with mushrooms to create a $22 flavour explosion - raw, cooked and slightly pickled funghi sit in a light kombu and dashi broth; strips of tempura nori provide crunch and (bizarrely and wonderfully) an oysterlike after taste. I didn’t even notice it was dairy and gluten-free.
If you are none of the above, definitely order the bread ($8). The house-made sourdough is not as tangy as some and, a perversely good sign, I bruised a gum on the crust. Salve that (almost) wound with an extra swipe of caraway-infused whipped butter.
Of course they have dumplings, but you’re not on Dominion Rd now. This $18 dish is from the meat-stuffed school of Eastern European cookery. The shredded lamb filling was almost too sweet for me — balance it with every last mouthful of a creamy feta and dill accompaniment. To be honest, there are worse ways to spend an after-work Wednesday.
A word here about the wait staff. If you ask these guys where they get their carrots from, they’ll probably give you the GPS co-ordinates. Provenance matters and, on this menu, they credit everyone from the ceramicists (Fiona Mackay and Hayley Bridgford) to the coffee roasters (Flight). I did actually order the miso carrot main ($21). The vege were purple and, on a scale of cooked to raw, erred towards the latter. You don’t necessarily want your carrot to cut like it has been boiling since the 1950s but you do want to be able to cut it. A minute longer, and this dish — adorned with macadamia “cream” and crack-your-teeth-caramelised buckwheat — might have been sublime. It’s a brave new plant-based world out there, but the best places aren’t ramming this down your throat. Williams Eatery segues from cassava chips and a jerusalem artichoke gnocchi to dishes built exclusively for carnivores. The slow-cooked lamb shoulder ($30) melted into a sharp-smoky harissa and yoghurt base and came with a slab of roasted cauliflower almost big enough to earn a menu heading of its own. There is a thoughtfulness about this place that extends beyond those calm, grey walls. The food is interesting, and the staff are interested. We felt welcomed, valued and we were definitely staying for dessert and cheese, which was the same thing. Cheese sorbet ($12) was not too sweet and not too savoury. It was a pudding to be eaten with mindful calm; a meditation on gustatory balance. The walls at Williams Eatery are artless — the food is anything but.
Williams Eatery 03/85 Daldy St, Wynyard Quarter Ph: (09) 373 3906 We spent $187 for two. Rating: 17 — Great. Outstanding (19-20), great (16-18), good (13-15), disappointing (the rest).