Botswana Butchery (Auckland)

Auckland Ferry Building, 99 Quay St, City, ph: 09-307 6966

by Michael Hooper | Cuisine issue #153 | Monday, 13 August, 2012
RATING:
New, high-quality restaurant offerings are quickly championed by Aucklanders, but once the opening kisses had blown away in the harbour breeze, Queenstown-based Botswana Butchery’s northern venture was pilloried online and in the press.

On a visit in those bad old early days, dishes were inadequate and staff were obviously lacking basic training. “I’m new,” was the excuse offered by three different waitstaff over our two visits.

Yes, we made a repeat visit to be fair, and to be sure. Our first assessment had been just three weeks since opening, and perhaps “the great staff who enjoy a party” (from the company’s website) had been recovering from one that night. Thankfully, some improvements had been effected when we returned at the six-week mark. The experience remained flawed, but now there was hope.

Layout changes have increased the seating of the old Cin Cin, and there’s a not unpleasant Moorish-temple-meets-ocean-liner theme to the padded decor. The bar now huddles intimately under a mezzanine, while elevated and hypnotic wave views above help to distract from the low ceiling.

The comprehensive but nostalgic menu matches the decor, including moussaka, French onion soup, a silky foie gras parfait served in a pottle, some offal, grilled mushrooms, several seafood varieties and of course steak (with sauces charged extra).

Ordering was not easy on our first visit, as information on specials and seasonal vegetables had to be painfully extracted from servers item by item. Another table’s mains for two were mistakenly delivered to our table of four before our own entrees arrived, while a shared dish came without sharing plates.

However, it was the poor food execution on the first visit that surprised us the most. Devilled kidneys were bland and bouncy with their gristle untrimmed, served with dry, cut white bread triangles listed as “white toast”. Spanish-style whitebait was nearly tasteless (on both visits).

My main dish was a little fillet of snapper that lay lonely upon its plate, beached on a mostly blank white canvas. A side of creamed spinach was simply wilted leaves with cream added. These details perked up on the subsequent visit – the fish fillet was perfectly cooked and had almost doubled in size, while the spinach now showed evidence that it had been blanched then cooked with the cream.

Another main of Wagyu beef was a touch chewy, as we were warned would be the case if ordered medium-rare, but the grade-five cut was very flavourful.

On the first occasion, the geographically bewildered Botswana Peking duck proved little more than a chewy, deep-fried spring roll with visibly weary vegetables, shredded cabbage and scorched kumara crisps; it had little taste and was returned practically untouched, as was the inedibly tough and roughly presented skirt steak. This cut has made its mark lately as the new egalitarian triumph. Like all cheap cuts it must be carefully treated, but here we were given two tough, unadorned and untenderised strips, naked on the plate.

Slow-cooked “pig’s noggin and hock” sounded intriguing, but the accompanying crackling was rather rubbery and appeared extruded and deep-fried – like packaged scratchings or prawn crisps. A white potato puree was piped thinly, and rather unappetisingly, on to the plate. Was the pork free-range? Our waiter was clearly surprised that we had asked and had no definitive answer. His colleague, on our second visit, remained evasive about the poultry provenance, and a question on sustainable seafood and ethical food policy actually prompted spluttering confusion.

By the time of our second visit the staff somehow seemed happier, a little better informed, and more attentive through to the end; perhaps it was due to the cheery lunchtime sun pouring through the open harbour-front doors. Side plates for sharing were renewed, belatedly but at least unprompted, and the wine service was better.

The wine list is reasonable, although overly lifted from Central Otago. Additionally, while it is impressive having $1300 bottles of dessert wine on the list, you might expect their region to be spelled correctly. Main course wines on the first visit arrived some time after the food, along with the dreadful question, “Who’s having the riesling?” Our white wine was simply left on the table without any thought of keeping the bottle chilled, but on our second visit we were asked if the wine was cool enough for our liking. There appeared to be no one readily available on either visit who had New Zealand wine knowledge.

The “international and local cheeses” were another mystery to the waitstaff. My anonymous little 25g piece sulked beside a tower of crackers, but was elevated by a knob of waxy honeycomb. The pineapple tarte Tatin was good, as was a generous banana creme brulee. Salt and pepper remained on the table as dessert spectators.

Polite but specific comments on the shortcomings of the returned dishes on our first visit had no visible effect on either the waiter or the bill. Our wait for the latter at the counter was interminable, with the reception person blatantly disinterested in the credit cards before her. The second time round we were treated with much more alertness and interaction.

All this was welcome evidence that the Otago-based owners have been (somewhat tardily) addressing the early, woeful aspects of food and service. However, it still begs the question – how long, if indeed at all, should diners tolerate paying high-end prices for a limp introductory offering, especially from a canny and experienced operator? Surrounded as they are by a competitive quay of respected and motivated restaurants, the immigrant Dr Botswana would do well to remember Shortland Street’s most famous line.

Botswana ButcheryAuckland Ferry Building,
99 Quay St, City, ph: 09-307 6966,
goodgroup.co.nz/botswana-butchery
7 days 11am-11pm
Mains $26-$48

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