Prepare to drool! Dining at Lava

It’s August and that means Auckland Restaurant Month!

I love this month. I save up all my dining envy from my Facebook feed (pun intended) and roll it out in August when I can make huge savings at the city’s best restaurants.

Last week I kicked off the month in Sofitel style at Lava Dining in the Auckland viaduct. An award-winning chef, a new innovative winter menu AND a restaurant month deal!

Here it is for your drooling edification:

Sofitel lava dining auckland
Our view from our table at Lava Dining across the viaduct
Sofitel Auckland
Ora King Salmon

I started with this dish of fresh salmon served with halved grapes, ribbons of cucumber, fresh wasabi (which didn’t blow my head off like I find it usually does), shiso and rice crackers matched with a crisp Nautilus Estate Marlborough Sauvignon. Happy place.

Sofitel Auckland scallops
Scallop entree

My husband did not do the tasting menu, preferring to go for three courses a la carte. He started with these delicious, warm seared scallops with proscuitto, red onion jam, cauliflower puree and decorated with little beet leaves. Yes I had a taste and yes it was great! *plateenvy

Sofitel Auckland ox cheek
Braised ox cheek

Then he waited while I tucked into this generous serve of melt-in-your-mouth braised ox cheek with crispy beet chips, beet puree, black garlic and parsley and scattered with nuts for some good crunch. Pierre paired it with the only Australian on my menu, Yalumba Coonawarra Cigare Cabernet Sauvignon. I was excited now.

Sofitel Auckland degustation
Gnocchi with mushrooms

Then it was time for the gnocchi course. Pillows of potato gnocchi on a pumpkin puree with smoky mushrooms, sliced truffle and kale chips. The smokiness was amazing and it came paired with the Nautilus Marlborough Chardonnay which was so good. And I’m not normally a Chardy girl!

Sofitel Auckland restaurant month
Venison with leeks

Then back together we came with me having this little Raukumara wild venison dish – which was plenty generous for course number four! Hubby had a larger version, served medium rare with parsnip puree, sauteed leeks, red cabbage gel, hazelnuts and cocoa nibs on a rich jus. But the Nautilus Pinot Noir made the whole thing come together on a romantic rainy Auckland night!

Sofitel restaurant month
A little palate cleanser!

This carrot and orange sorbet served on Greek yoghurt was a sneaky little dish in and of itself! One you should definitely serve at home – but for pudding not just a pause 🙂

Sofitel Auckland restaurant month
Chocolate upon chocolate!

No I didn’t have room for this dish so we shared it! Valrhona chocolate mousse with salted caramel, macarons, and peanut butter ice cream paired with the delicious Greywacke Marlbough Late Harvest Riesling. I managed the sticky all by myself 🙂

Sofitel dessert auckland
Coconut panacotta

And just to be sure we were absolutely satiated, hubby ordered this yummy coconut panacotta with poached rhubarb, berry sorbet and pistachio.

So there you have it. Hungry?

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Thanks to the great team at the Sofitel for hosting us! Jump here to book in for your turn at Lava Dining >>

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Euro: judging the master chef

EuroIt’s been a few years since I darkened the door of Euro on Princes Wharf and The Bloke had never been so we decided to go there for my birthday dinner. Master Chef judge Simon Gault has always had me at ‘signature chicken’ and this night would be no exception, but it was the tastes before that had me swooning.

Happily for us we were shown to the private champagne booth down in the Pasha end of the expanded and busy restaurant. Two large groups were booked for 7.30 so we’d been advised to slide our order in before they sat they well heeled selves down. And you do need to be reasonably well-heeled to sit down here. Sadly Mr Gault’s restaurants (he also own Jervois Steak House) are not featured in my Entertainment Guide, not that The Bloke was going to let me clip a coupon on this auspicious night anyway…

Euro
The Peking duck

The paper menus have been replaced by bright yellow laminated posters which belie the quality of what is written on it. Our waiter introduced himself as Raz and gave us typically great Euro service – attentive, an ability to banter with my attempts at engaging him, and a thorough knowledge of every tiny nuance on the yellow sheet.

Being the birthday girl, I wanted to share entrees (do guys do that?) so we started with Peking Duck on a platter with 5 little Chinese pancakes that arrived in a dumpling basket, a heap of shredded duck and pieces of crispy skin, a little dish of crunchy coleslaw, another of cashew dukka, and a bowl of hoisin. Make yourself a little burrito and eat in two bites. Outstanding.

Euro
S.G's crab and prawn delight

We also went for S.G’s crab and prawn which is a thick and rich chowder with jalapeno creme fraiche sauce and tuna wafers which are sliced so thinly they wave about on the plate looking like they’re alive. Two spoons thank you and I was happy as a clam.

You already know what I ordered for my main, and in fact could have placed my order from the car on the way there, but here is why I do love Euro’s signature chicken.

Euro
The 'signature chicken'

It is rubbed with herbs, slow cooked on the rotisserie and served with a ridiculously creamy and flavoursome mash with a crunchy slaw sprinkled with roasted peanuts. (I try this at home.) The portion was generous – a breast and little drumstick.

Euro
The eye fillet with extra morsels

Wagyu was on the menu for $65, but The Bloke went for a medium rare eye fillet which was also a generous serve accompanied by some melt-in-your-mouth braised rib and a slice of mushroom and bone marrow terrine. We added a side dish of green beans with sliced almonds and goats cheese.

Euro
Just enough room to share....

And yes we did manage to keep our pudding stomachs free. Well relatively so – we shared a hot and melty chocolate pudding (which took 15 minutes to bake, just enough time to finish our bottle of Church Road), served with bannoffee icecream and a sweep of raspberry couli.

No coffee thanks, not even a wafer thin mint.

Total bill, including breads and dips to start and that bottle of red – $235

 

Al Brown’s Depot is worth pulling into

Al Brown Depot
Al Brown's Depot

If you slip down Federal Street between the Sky City’s valet parking entrance and Sky Grand’s entrance you’ll see a raft of new restaurants and bars spear headed by celebrity chefs and bursting with happy diners. It’s easy to miss though if you’re not a regular to the casino or one of the inner city commuters who hot foot it down Federal. Buses line the street like a train at any given time and a taxi rank stretches for at least half of it. But when they “move that bus” (Auckland Council please make it permanently so!) the big reveal is quite simply fabulous.

Today I lunched at Al Brown’s Depot. He opened his doors at the same time Luke Dallow opened Hummingbird (read our opening night review here) next door and Sean Connolly opened The Grill just on the other side of the Sky Grand’s new entrance. Like Hummingbird there is outdoor seating for those brave enough to sit amongst the bus fumes, but we decided on a table next to a new window that has been blasted through the Sky Grand wall to reveal their swanky lobby.

Tuatua
Just slide these suckers off the shell in one

Nick (from somewhere in the north of England by the sounds) was our waiter and after hearing about the Depot’s most popular dishes until a little pool of drool collected on the table in front of me, we let him come up with a selection of small plates and one main for us to share. I was also keen to try the wine on tap. Yes, pinot noir out of keg from Mt Edward in Central Otago’s Gibbston Valley. It was 17.5˚ (which I find quite suitable for a red) and is done especially because Al is a mate. It pays to be mates with Al, who was sitting behind me, because he’s been selling barrels of it. That and Spy Valley sauvignon blanc and Mt Edward rose, also on tap but chilled like beer.

While poring over the menu a little plate of complimentary and deliciously smooth babaganoush arrived with flat bread. But it was the raw seafood bar that grabbed my attention.

Depot peach and proscuitto salad
The fabulous warm peach and proscuitto salad

I’ve never seen tuatua just sitting on ice like oysters before. Let alone tasted them. The only way I’ve eaten tuatua (after doing the hip swivel in the sand at low tide) is to throw them on the barbie in their shells with a little white wine when they pop open. But no. Here they come raw and shucked with a little vinagarette to drip on and “schloopp”. That’s the sound you make when you suck them off the shell. (NB: Not first date fodder). The texture is tougher than an oyster, but the flavour mild, like a scallop maybe? You’ll have to try them and decide for yourself. $2.50 each.

A plate of raw salmon sliced thinly was our next dish with wasabi mayo, $15. Nice but not as wow as the rest of what was about to come.

Turbot sliders
These tiny fish burgers are FAB

The plate of the day for me was the white peach and proscuitto salad. It was a surprise and I have already tried to emulate it at home putting peach slices on the bbq. This was sublime: warm charred peach slices, salty proscuitto, rocket, toasted macadamia nuts and tart blue cheese with a cab sav dressing. I think it’s only a special so you’d better get there quick.

Next was also fab and I’d already read Tweets about it: Turbot Sliders, 4 for $15. This light fish is similar to flounder, lightly egged and pan fried, served with aoli in tiny burger buns that are a little sweet. But we still weren’t done.

Depot pork
Slow cooked pork and potato skins

A swig of my tumbler of pinot and the 6-hour cooked pork hock which fell off the bone served with crispy skin, grated apple and a parsnip puree arrived. This is a main dish ($29) and would be great to share with a wine for two.

I’d almost forgotten that we also ordered the potato skins – most likely deep fried, they were that delicious, with shaved chevrago cheese and dusted with porcini powder giving it a truffle taste, $10.

Done and dusted and heading home for a lie down! I’m going back with my Bloke as soon we can 🙂

 

Depot Eatery and Oyster Bar, 86 Federal Street. Ph 09 363 7048. But you can’t make a booking, so just call if you’ve left your wallet!

www.eatatdepot.co.nz

The inaugural Auckland Restaurant Month begins

Alex Swney is right. People don’t come to Auckland from Hawkes Bay to drink wine, or from Nelson for our beaches. They come for an urban experience. I reckon they also come to shop, but that’s another story because last night was the launch of Auckland Restaurant Month.

Organised by the team at Big Little City, they have an excitable 61 restaurants on board with big gun chefs as well as the little guys. From July 28th to August 14th, 2011, Auckland city will be a gastronomic gala of dishes made especially for the event from your favourite eating haunts, and a few you may not have yet darkened.

You need your chopstick etiquette under control at Ebisu!

The good thing about it is that there at set prices to cater for the budget-conscious through to those who don’t know what a budget is. Three price points: Under $20, $21-$30, Over $30.

So last night we hob nobbed at three different venues on our literal three-course culinary journey through the heart of the city. Britomart is the new Black in Auckland right now and Ebisu, sandwiched between Tyler St Garage and Precinct Cafe on Quay Street, was our starting point for their delicious modern Japanese cuisine. I melted at the melt-in-your-mouth sashimi of tuna, salmon, kingfish and hapuka. Thinly sliced raw scallop was also a hit, as were the marinated seaweed bites and a yummy misu to warm up our chilly cockles.

It was a media meat market as we made eyes with Petra Bagust and her husband Hamish Wilson, radio couple JJ Feeney and Dom Harvey, Jay Reeve, Ray McVinnie, Danny Watson and a few editors I made an unashamed beeline for. After the first course was inhaled and the killer cocktail (created especially for us with bacardi, passionfruit pulp, lime juice and mint) was slurped like a fizzy, taxis were summoned and off we went to the next secret.

Kermedec was the “institution” part of the evening where main courses in the toasty warm brasserie were either duck confit with toasted hazelnuts and brussel sprouts (ME!), roasted hapuku on clam chowder (my Plus One) or pumpkin risotto for the vegies among us. Delicious!

Peter Gordon's twist on the tapioca pudding

A cheeky pinot noir later and the taxis were again waiting, this time to wisk us off for our final surprise: Dine by Peter Gordon where we’d get to taste four desserts at our white-clothed tables after a palate-cleansing cocktail made by Luke Dallow to launch his new Red Hummingbird bar. We then tasted Dine’s signature dessert Coconut Tapioca served cold with mango and passionfruit and an avocado and yuzu sorbet. It really is good! Our table’s fave though was British/Aussie celebrity chef Sean Connolly’s chocolate orange tart. The Providores and Tapa Room created a banana and azuki bean stuffed coconut rice fritter which was like a sticky donut and quite delicious and Dine’s Chocolate pot de creme accessorised by an outstanding caramelised white chocolate cream was our 4th dessert – each accompanied by a sticky wine. Taxi!

Check out the dates for the next  Auckland Restaurant Month here.

Tantalised at TriBeCa

Holding steadfast to their New Year’s resolution to eat their way through Auckland’s degustation menus, Victoria Davy and “The Man” headed down to the acclaimed TriBeCa in Parnell.

It was another freezing Auckland evening (sorry South Islanders, but it felt like Dunedin!) and due to my highly efficient cab driver who knew all the short cuts I arrived well before The Man and was warmly welcomed by Executive Chef Hayden McMillan, and then by owner Mark Walynetz. My coat was immediately taken and, as I sat and chatted with Chef McMillan, a glass of Bollinger was popped in my hand.  5 star service right there.

Course 2: fresh smoked King Salmon

TriBeCa’s ambiance is an absolute winner.  Mark and his wife Pauline have managed to combine elegant dining in a sumptuous space with a homely feel.  We felt so relaxed and comfortable – just like we were eating at a friend’s house.

The 26 year old Hayden McMillan (formally of Meredith’s, French Cafe and Vinnie’s) has been Executive Chef for a mere 9 months. Being so new into his first Executive appointment his focus is on “flavours; matching flavours and using ingredients in the right way to extract the best from them”.   He is a proud kiwi and all the ingredients used except one – cheese made by nuns in France (if you please) are from New Zealand.

The Chef’s Tasting Menu is 8 courses, but we were lucky and received and couple of extra courses, all in a day’s work for a food reviewer! (Yes I have taken up running.)

Course 3: braised Oxtail

The menu begins with Oyster, Diamond Clams and Saffron Broth before it journeys through the likes of Fresh Smoked King Salmon, Masterstock Glazed Free Range Pork Belly, Warm Winter Salad with echouragnac (walnut infused cheese made by those nuns – yummo!) and Crispy Skin Duck Breast to name a few, and concludes with a chocolate crescendo, which The Man ate. I concluded my gobbling with a beautiful dessert that included blue cheese ice-cream.  Oh my goodness, I love blue-cheese and this was de-ee-vine!  All the zingyness of blue cheese with a sweet after taste.  A perfect ending and I want a tub of that in my freezer.

All of the dishes were unfailingly sublime and amongst this gastro gorgeousness it was hard to pick a favourite, but there were two standout courses for me.

Firstly, the second course of Fresh Manuka Smoked King Salmon with squid ink infused brioche, charcoal smoked eggplant, freeze dried mandarins, prawn and lemon yoghurt.  The presentation of this dish was truly ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ material.  The brioche and eggplant were blacker than black and a perfect backdrop for the beautiful pink salmon, the orange mandarins and purple edible flowers. This was an artistic masterpiece on the plate and a masterpiece of perfectly rounded flavours on the palate, with the toasted brioche taking the combo of flavours to a new level.  The pairing of Milton Voignier Gisbourne ‘09 worked wonderfully, refreshing the palate so it could experience the dish anew with each mouthful.

Blue cheese icecreammmmm

My other favourite dish was the Braised Oxtail with honeycomb mushrooms, caramelised swede puree, karengo (NZ native seaweed), soya beans, radish, baby paua and miso consume served table side.  Initially, this was like the essence of winter on a plate with the rich melt-in-your-mouth oxtail, deep miso flavoured consume and pure swede flavour.  But then the taste of summer from the radish and freshness of the soya beans popped in the mouth, and the kick from the shaved horse radish lifted everything.  It was like eating four seasons in one dish.  The wine match of Seresin Gewurztraminer ’08  was excellent – I always find that summer and winter dishes pair well with this gutsy and yet subtle wine.

This was a sublime evening from beginning to end.  For a young Chef, Hayden’s food is mature, excellently balanced and accomplished.  This, along with the genuinely warm hospitality, means we will definitely be returning to TriBeCa.

 

Chef’s Tasting Menu $90.00 per person not including wine.

TriBeCa: The Foundation Building, 8 George Street Parnell, phone 09 379 6359. www.tribeca.co.nz

– Victoria Davy

Swooning at Clooney

From the moment Clooney opened in late 2006 it has been renowned for its elegant and sumptuous spaces.  It’s like a James Bond set crossed with a warehouse.  With all the glitter and opulence of 007 as well as the polished concrete and industrial elements, it somehow creates an elegant, mysterious ambience.  Combined with the outstanding cuisine, exceptional wine list and floor staff that are second to none, it takes you away to another world.

Step into the Clooney lair...

Clooney is the creation of Tony Stewart, and his partnership with Executive Chef Des Harris has established one of New Zealand’s best restaurants.  If we had ‘Seven Wonders of New Zealand’ it would most certainly be on the list (in my humble opinion).  So one can imagine the excited vibe in the Davy household in the lead up to our visit to Clooney but we pulled ourselves together as “whoop, whooping” in such opulence would be quite inappropriate.  For this stop on our Auckland degustation journey we were joined by two lovely friends, a NZ celebrity chef and his gorgeous fiancée.

Clooney’s degustation is an eight-course tasting menu that starts its journey traversing through the subtle tastes of kingfish, venison Carpaccio and scallops, hits its straps with wondrous pork and lamb dishes, before winding up with a chocolatey-rich finishing punch.  There’s so much I could describe, but here are some of my personal highlights …

Venison carpaccio

The kingfish was served with cucumber foam that was sweet and sour and zinged on the palate.  The kingfish consume was personally served tableside by Chef Des Harris (to all tables not just ours).  A fabulous personal touch.  The foie gras with the venison carpaccio was beautifully buttery and coated the palate with richness and was balanced perfectly with both the moscatel gel and the date gel.  The wine match of Arthur Metz Cuvee Anne-Laure’ 2007 Pinot Gris Alsace France was perfection.

The slow cooked pork dish (The Man’s personal favourite!) looked like autumn on a plate; beautiful rich shades of butternut puree orange and earthy shades from the veal jus with smoky bacon.  The smoked butternut squash was de-ee-vine, the pork belly is twice cooked, rolled into balls and coated with crumbs and squid ink.  It tasted like a complete roast pork dinner in a wee ball and paired with Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico DOCG 2008 Tuscany Italy – delectable!

I have to mention the buttermilk and yoghurt pana cotta, with elderflower foam, lycee sorbet, persimmon puree and fresh persimmon.  The pana cotta had a subtle aftertaste of ginger and, between you and me, I was the only one at the table who could taste it.  All my fellow diners argued with me but after a quick conflab with Chef Harris it was confirmed that there was indeed  ginger in the pana cotta = fist pump!   A sublime palette-cleansing dish that managed to be both refreshing and full of flavour and was beautifully paired with Prunotto Moscato d’Asti 2009 Piedmont Italy.

Cheesy snow flakes

My favourite dish of the evening was the valdeon (Spanish blue cheese) that had been frozen and grated to produce blue cheese snowflakes – heaven!!  Served with walnuts, pomegranate, beetroot flowers and a white powder which as soon as it hits the tongue turns to liquid a very interesting sensation.  Here’s a superfluous tid-bit of info, according to the celebrity chef there is none in NZ at the moment – all the restaurants are waiting for a shipment from Spain.  I love blue cheese and I loved everything about this dish, the texture of the walnuts (did I mention the blue cheese), the beetroot leaves and the pairing of Carmes de Rieussec 2006 Sauternes was sublime!

We ate for nearly five hours.  We ohhhed and ahhhhhed  through every dish.  Everything about the evening was pure perfection, from the expert service of our waiter Paul, to every delectable dish where every wine pairing was magnificent.  You know that Chef Harris is one of the best when the chef at our table was as wowed as we were.  We left with all our senses completely sated and cannot wait to return again.

Clooney’s Degustation $120.00 per person, wine matches $100.00 per person.
33 Sale Street, Freemans Bay.  Phone 09 358 1702

Jump here to Clooney >>>

– Victoria Davy

The Grove wins best Auckland restaurant

Metro Magazine has voted The Grove as number one restaurant for the second year running. Read our review and drool…

The Bloke and I recently had dinner at The Grove. It was a chilly Auckland night but Thursday parking was good thanks to a sneaky spot outside The Den Adult Concepts on Wyndham Street, which leant all sorts of connotations to The Bloke’s idea of the evening as he didn’t know where exactly the restaurant was. It’s not in there! It’s on the newly rennovated St Patricks Square behind St Patricks Cathedral further up Wyndham Street.

Owner and chief sommalier (award winning actually) Michael Dearth greeted us at the door and one of his staff took our coats. The long narrow restaurant has windows over Albert Street at the far end and that was we were to sit. Their speciality is wine matching with the amazing food that chef Ben scoots out of the kitchen, so we wine matched away.

First course for me was yellow fin tuna sashimi with whipped avocado and a little ‘canelloni’ of, I think, rice paper wrapped around some avo and maybe a little cucumber (to go with the whipped cucumber froth garnish). The plate was dotted with teeny flowers which I gobbled up. It’s their signature dish, they said, and I’d recommend getting that autograph again (!) It was divine – and perfectly matched with the 09 Hans Herzog Heavenly Sevens from Marlborough. It seemed to burst in my mouth like a puff! The food that is.

The Bloke went for seared scallops on a little tasty risotto of pink potato, crab and morels (what are morels?) Tasted awesome anyway and I know this for I leaned across and tried it. His was matched with a Marisco Pinot Gris also from Marlborough.

Then out came the mains: pork belly and loin for me (I had made a bit of a deal about asking if there was crackle. Not exactly crackle said our waiter, but it is crispy. Verdict: I’d call that crackle. Just not your crazy crackle look, but definitely crunchy and just what I fancied.) It was also served with 4 slices of tender loin and presented with tiny little meals dotted around. Teeny petit pois (yes peas) and little stacks of this and that with more flowers. We ordered brussel sprouts. I know, what were we thinking! but they were delicious fried with a little bacon and onion, and the winter gratin which was cauliflour and cheese. My last bite (my best bite) was so good I didn’t want it to end. Although chewing on pork belly till morning might not be so nice. This was matched with a delicious 06 Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir.

The Bloke went for a steak. Correction: Beef fillet with smoked potato puree, blonde beer and endive marmalade. It was excellent and he declared, in few words, it to be “tender”. Sorry, that’s all I got. It was matched with an 02 Kemp Road from Hawkes Bay and lo, there was room for dessert.

I was sold on the handcrafted souffle, which last night was passionfruit (my absolute favourite flavour) and served with homemade icecream. It arrived puffing out of its ramekin still piping hot and was delicious – although I did give half away across the table. The Bloke had the Cheescake which was deemed melt-in-your-mouth. But I said mine was. We didn’t make a scene.

We had no room for coffee although a little plate of petit fours arrived which almost tipped me over the edge (a wafer thin mint sir?)

I can see why The Grove is #1 in Auckland right now and I’ll back. When I am flush with funds.

Entree, main and dessert for 2, plus 2 glasses of wine each = $260.

For the rest of Auckland’s Best Restaurants, as selected by Metro Magazine 2011, click here >>>