41 Shortland St, Auckland
(09) 336 1857
$517 for five
Rating out of 10:
Food: 8.5 Service: 6 Value: 7 Ambience: 7
Vadouvan is the French version of an Indian masala curry mix. At Pilkingtons, it makes my entree taste like the dusty bottom of an ancient spice rack.
Dull and earthy. A dank, and definitely acquired, taste.
Across the table, another wrinkled nose. Fresh fig with walnuts and honeycomb ($22) is being likened to day-old, damp washing. The cultured creme accompaniment is, apparently, too cultured for our olfactory senses.
Pilkingtons is not for plebs. It's situated at the $42-an-eye-fillet end of town, on a street frequented by lawyers and financial types. This might explain, though not really excuse, the superciliousness of the waitperson's greeting: "How ARE we today?"
We were good thanks. And so, minor entree missteps aside, were our dinners.
I didn't like my mozzarella, baba ganoush and crispy kale ($20) because the kale wasn't really crispy and that dull thud of spice weighed heavily. But the plancha squid? Barely cooked, on a pool of sweet thick black garlic sauce with half a chargrilled lime and a hint of chilli heat, it was a $19 exercise in plain and simple food envy. No complaints about the raw fish either ("crudo" to flasher folk) that came with macadamia and daikon, creamed and finely grated for maximum lightness. Order this ($23) and you'll definitely have room for pudding.
Pilkingtons bills itself as a bar, kitchen, terrace and (seriously) an "orangery". I imagine the daytime ambience - lots of leafy green, glass and steel - is gorgeous. By night, it was a little like eating in the nocturnal house at the zoo. We classily deployed cellphone torches to view the menu and, later, our plates.
Des Harris, ex-Clooney, is the new executive chef at Pilkingtons and he's produced a menu of bistro classics with subtle extras.
For example, the compulsory confit duck leg ($38), comes with prunes in plum juice, but also a faint lick of licorice. Yellow belly flounder ($38) sat beside potato whipped as smooth as a meringue and underneath a mussel butter that included whole mussels.
My maltagliati (more uniform than the random, scrappy off-cuts that usually define this style of pasta) was studded with slow-cooked lamb and melty chunks of date that made a good dish great, even if $37 seems a lot to pay for pasta.
If you're looking for bang for your buck and they're still doing the wild pork gnocchi special ($28), don't miss it. The boiled potatoey pillows were the lightest I've had in Auckland - maybe because the kitchen had, mercifully, resisted the temptation to also fry them. The sauce was tangy, meaty and moreish, though it sat, untouched, while we waited for everybody's mains to arrive. We were four for dinner, but, for a few unforgiveable minutes, we felt like two tables of two.
More delays (this time with an apology) before dessert, which was chocolate (Valhrona, souffle tart, okay) and icecream (cheesecake, strawberry, divine). We also had the $22 cheese platter that was way, way more carb than dairy, though the dairy did include the extremely delicious current local darling The Cheese With No Name.
How are we today? Good thanks, but we'd like more cheese. Also more lightbulbs. And next time, we'll all have the gnocchi.