90 Federal Street
Auckland, New Zealand
+64 363 7067
My New Zealand adventure ended in Auckland, which means that this review will wrap up my series of New Zealand posts. Damn, how I do miss the Land of the Long White Cloud! Hopefully when uni finishes (and when I subsequently have no more nasty course fees to pay), I’ll be able to spend long weekends across the Tasman. But for now, I shall live vicariously through my Kiwi workmate Mika’s accent, seeing the All Blacks lose game after game and by re-watching Boy on Foxtel.
In hindsight, I really wished we spent more than 14 hours in Auckland. I would have loved to drive out of the city, hung out in Parnell and Waiheke Island. That said, I’m glad that we did all right when it came to choosing where to eat in the only restaurant we had time for during our very short stay in Auckland. The Grill by Sean Connolly was a pretty damn good restaurant.
I didn’t know it at the time but Sean Connolly is a pretty big deal. Raised as a Pom and having spent time in Sydney, he eventually became a celebrity chef. Apparently there was also a MKR-esque show called Under the Grill, which documented the weeks leading up to the restaurant’s opening. Oh, and his restaurant won the coveted Restaurant of the Year award from Cuisine magazine, a NZ foodie magazine. As a food blogger, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I had actually never heard of the guy (though to be fair, I don’t watch a lot of TV and rarely do I watch cooking shows except for Masterchef season finales and even then, I leave the room in a huff when they drag segments out for too long).
Regardless, I was excited when we rocked up to The Grill just outside Skycity casino, right next to The Grand Hotel. And although I’d never been to the UK, I thought that there was something that screamed out London as soon as we walked into the ritzy dining room (yeah, I don’t know). We knew that we in for a good night.
In addition to the sleek contemporary furnishings, The Grill boasted some pretty nice tableware. We particularly liked this eyedropper.
We also liked their cocktail list, which starred old favourites, twists on old favourites and newcomers. I ordered the Pimm’s Garden, which was a colourfully refreshing – and very English – blend of Pimm’s No.1, lemon, lemon, lime, mint and cucumber. Meanwhile, Marty stayed true to his Gold Coast roots by ordering a Honey Whiskey Sour (NZD$18/AUD$14.29), the prime ingredient being, bleurgh, Jack Daniel’s (though to be fair, it was nice).
We were given refills of lovely warm bread. Sadly, we didn’t get butter refills – a shame because it was so delicious and creamy. The little paper with the cow on it was also too cute.
The Grill keeps its menu simple. It’s pretty much steaks and seafood and other titbits using excellent quality ingredients that’s been sourced locally. In other words, it’s not really something you can’t find in Melbourne or Sydney. That said, The Grill claims to serve food that has a ‘distinctly Kiwi accent.’
There is an interesting selection of starters, all of which I liked the sound of. I drooled over the King crab and crème fraiche Bloody Mary soup and the warmed pulled suckling pig terrine. However, I wasn’t sure about the thought of paying NZD16/AUD$12.70 each for a Queensland prawn, though. In the end, we went for two meaty starters.
Marty had the smoked free range pork spare ribs (NZD$26/AUD$20.63), which was served under a glass dome and when the waiter pulled the dome away, smoke came out. After being all like, ‘WAAHHH’ for a few seconds, we got to work. The ribs were tender and buttery with a very strong orange rind presence, which gave them a fragrant tartness. While Marty thought they were good, he insists the amateur ribs he made at home once using a recipe from the Masterchef website were just as good.
I went for The Grill’s signature dish, Sean’s steak tartare (NZD$26/AUD$20.63). Now, this was a pretty epic event in itself.
The waitress wheeled a cart to our table and assembled the whole thing from scratch. First came the fresh beef, followed by a medley of Worcestershire sauce, Spanish capers, basil, Dijon’s mustard, shallots, gherkins, fresh parsley and Kaitaia Fire chilli sauce. What really made this steak tartare ‘Sean’s’ as opposed to someone else’s was the smoked paprika, which added that extra depth to the tartare.
But wait a sec, what is Kaitaia Fire chilli sauce? It’s like a local version of Tobasco – they really meant it when they said that they wanted to keep things locals (well, I guess except for the prawns), which was fair enough. I wasn’t sure whether the whinging Pom sitting next to us agreed with me though as he was all, ‘WAH WAH TOBASCO’ and I was all, ‘OMFG SHADDARPS.’
But anyway, the steak tartare was beautiful – the flavours were just so strong and so fresh. I could have happily nibbled on this all night.
I also liked that they were generous with the crisp bread. Usually I find that the bread’s gone while I’m only halfway through the meat!
Marty and I both ordered steaks. The Savannah Angus is one of my all-time favourite steaks so I was delighted to see it on the menu. I ordered the 180-gram eye fillet version (NZD$39/AUD$30.95), but you can get it in sirloin and rib eye form in all different sizes. Marty also has an eye for eye fillets (bwah!) but he prefers the more buttery grain-fed steaks, so he chose the 180-gram Wakanui Angus eye fillet (NZD$41/AUD$32.54).
We were also given the option to have sauces and butters with our steaks. Keen to try some of the more unusual sauces, I went for the miso hollandaise while Marty had the chimichurri and horseradish cream. I kept cooing over the little jars that the sauces came in – they looked like bone marrow!
Before that night, Marty never had chimichurri before so he was eyeing the parsley, garlic, basil, EVOO and red wine vinegar sauce intently. At one stage, he was playing around with the spoon and the jar’s contents while humming, ‘Chimichurri, ohhhhh chimichurri’ to himself when I noticed our waiter approaching us with some mustards. With Marty’s back turned to the waiter, I let him keep singing until the waiter appeared in front of us, mustards in hand, before giving Marty a half-smirk. The waiter bemusedly said, ‘Great song, mate!’ much to Marty’s embarrassment and my amusement before offering us a selection of mustards.
You can’t go wrong with Dijon.
Both our steaks were cooked perfectly medium-rare. The meat was excellent thanks to the former cow’s New Zealand upbringing (oh man, all that lovely green grass!) and we enjoyed every bit of it. That said, Marty and I agreed that there was something missing and that we’ve had better steaks before. I’m not sure whether the sauces had anything to do with it; my miso Hollandaise was beautiful but I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t missing my good ol’ mushroom sauce while Marty admitted that chimichurri was ‘a lot more fun to say than to eat.’
Forgoing the duck fat chips and onion rings (what’s with Kiwis and onion rings?), we decided to choose a healthy side dish to split. I love heirloom tomatoes so we ordered the heirloom tomato salad (NZD$16/AUD$12.70). Marty doesn’t normally go crazy over salad-type sides but he declared this dish to be his favourite of the night. It was beautiful mix of different kinds of tomatoes (even green ones, which Marty took a particular liking to) held together by a simple balsamic, basil and EVOO dressing. The best.
We were too full for dessert so after we paid the very reasonable NZD$182/AUD$144.44 bill, we were off. The food might not have been as mind-blowing as the South Island’s scenery but all the dishes we tried were of a very good standard and they’d stand up well in the competitive eastern Australian market. Meanwhile, the service was initially slow and I think this was because we arrived during the busy 8pm peak period. To The Grill’s credit, the service did get better after diners started leaving which meant that our dinner ended on a wonderful note (though not as wonderful as Marty’s singing).
And so that wraps up my New Zealand series. For the next few weeks (or until I get bored, whichever happens sooner), this blog will be all MELBOURNE, MELBOURNE, MELBOURNE. Stay tuned, folks.