Dine by Peter Gordon (Auckland)
Sky City Grand Hotel, 90 Federal St, City ph: 09-363 7030, skycityauckland.co.nz/restaurants/dineby Michael Hooper | Cuisine issue #156 | Friday, 1 February, 2013
Hidden behind a wall of Federal St own-goal competition and at the back of a hotel lobby, Dine has a challenge in a city where anonymity is seldom sought. Relying on the name of likeable London-based chef Peter Gordon for identity and on his elfin visits for direction, Dine competes against more corporal chefs Al Brown and Sean Connolly. Then there’s the risk of the sky falling in when Gordon’s appointed priests stray in his absence. In May, Nick Haszard took over from group executive chef Paul Jobin, who had jumped behind the bench after Bernard Bernabe left; two other chefs have presided since the restaurant opened in 2005.
Gordon’s influence still gives some consistency, although his original point of difference, extreme fusion, has now been diluted. Loyalty to local ingredients remains a comfort, as does Gordon’s insistence on free-range meat. The decor, once unique in its metropolitan maturity, now seems dulled, and the energy level, on this Thursday evening, was likewise.
What is missing most is the mischievous spark that strikes when the wand of the elf himself is waving in the kitchen, which I have found, perchance, on three occasions. It does make the difference. At one point, mid-evening, I survey the restaurant and there is not one staff member to be seen on the floor, aside from diligent manager Abhi Sharma barricaded behind his reception desk. The night’s musical mix, which moves from laid-back hip-hop to Motown, is puzzling.
Nothing is as easy to serve, nor as welcoming as warm bread, but the choice of three good styles is presented cold. A cute amuse of crayfish mille-feuille with coconut and edamame beans is served in short glass tumblers.
In entrees, the generously portioned laksa has happily survived the kitchen changes. With coconut, green tea noodles, a prawn, a kataifi (shredded pastry)-wrapped oyster, a crayfish medallion, crispy shallots, coriander and mint, the spicing has breadth and layered depth, rendering the dish delicious. An open raviolo with Nelson scallops cooked a little too firmly comes with prawn bisque, fennel salad and puree, lotus root crisp and strawberry tomatoes. It is pleasant with complementary flavours.
Day-boat fish, tonight crispy-skinned snapper, is not actually crispy and is also somewhat overcooked. It has an audience of three diamond shell clams with clam foam, al dente broccolini florets and vanilla-braised fennel, but the flavours are without any jolt.
Our other main course is a tempura of spicy dahl-stuffed inari pocket, crisply caked in a solid golden girdle along with a nori spinach roll. Fragrant and tasty it is; tempura it is not. The curry leaf salad and cauliflower lemongrass raita contribute to the incense rising from the plate.
Our warm and unpretentious waitress is engaged in attending us, while the earnest Sharma matches wines with warmth and willingness. There’s good depth to the thoughtful wine list – it’s ready to appease any taste and wallet. Moreover, Sharma’s wine matching is excellent, his attention to detail shown when a glass of chardonnay is introduced at perfect room temperature.
Dessert will be “worth the effort” urges the menu, and the choice is indeed seductive. The cardamom-centred chocolate fondant is tempting, but we choose to share peanut butter parfait with hazelnut feuilletine and “strangely delicious Macintosh sauce”. The dish eclipses the rest of our dinner. Its shining, dark chocolate delice, lifted by hints of apple and lemon, has a similar intensity to the generous slice of nutty parfait on its crunchy biscuit base. The masterful Macintosh sauce is a spot-on reincarnation of the twist-wrapped toffee.
Our evening has been pleasant, but frustratingly only in the orbit of excellence. Dine, where is thy sting?
Dine by Peter Gordon
Sky City Grand Hotel, 90 Federal St, City
ph: 09-363 7030, skycityauckland.co.nz/restaurants/dine
Dinner 7 days
Check your fridge, enter up to 4 items into the Meal Maker and we'll find recipes from our files containing those ingredients.