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Herald on Sunday Rating: 5/5
Address: Skycity Grand Hotel, 90 Federal Street
Phone: 363 7067
That Facebook. You gotta love it. As I write, on Wednesday, The Grill has 1099 Facebook fans. It has done 160 covers, so at least 939 people are fans of a restaurant that they have not eaten at. Can someone explain this to me?
Some good steakhouses have opened in recent years - Jervois Steak House and Marvel Grill spring to mind. We lack a real temple to carnivorousness like the nose-to-tail operation St John in Smithfield in London, where I enjoyed chitterlings (pig intestines) and ox tongue. But we've come a long way since Tony's.
The Grill's creation was documented week by week on a television show called Under the Grill. Since I seldom watch television and never watch food television, I was unaware of this, though I have subsequently watched a few minutes online. It served to remind me why I seldom watch television and never watch food television. But it also raised a philosophical conundrum: if a restaurant isn't on television, can it be said to exist?
The Grill (by Sean Connolly) does exist, at the entrance of the SkyCity Grand Hotel. They've fitted it out splendidly with a dramatic entrance that takes you past the kitchen and a curving staircase leading up to a mezzanine. It's very New York up there, all brown leather and low light.
It turns out that Sean Connolly - a Sydney star of kitchen and small screen - exists too. He appears at our table, with a slightly shy smile, announcing in his chewy Huddersfield accent, "I'm going to make your steak tartare this evening".
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The Professor, bless her heart, had expressed interest in the roasted bluenose "or perhaps the semolina gnocchi" before I told her that her vegetarian predilections would be taking the night off. I drew her attention to the section of the menu evocatively called Butcher's Block. She shuddered, closed the menu and invited me to order for her.
The carnivore thus unleashed saw no reason not to start with the tartare, which is prepared at the table.
Connolly himself pushed the trolley and we watched as he combined chopped fillet with egg yolks, gherkin, dijon mustard, smoked paprika, pepper and heaps of panache to make a sublime tartare.
Some people flinch at the idea of raw meat, though they'll happy eat sashimi; don't knock it till you've tried Connolly's - this is as good as it gets.
As a courtesy to my companion, who gamely said she enjoyed the tartare, I ordered the Caesar salad.
Regular readers will know that my insistence on ordering Caesar is a triumph of hope over experience but I can now report that there are two places - Euro and The Grill - where they approach perfection.
In Connolly's, the fine cos lettuce leaves are so delicate they might have been handmade; croutons are replaced by a nutty grit of breadcrumbs; the parmesan is a fine shower; the Ortiz anchovies are fat and blowsy; the egg, coddled at 62C, shimmers and trembles. I'm in heaven.
The steaks on that butcher's block run from $35 for a sirloin on the bone to the 2in-thick, 1.5kg rib eye at $180. (The wagyu is from Hawke's Bay but the rest is from New South Wales, where Connolly has established suppliers).
We share one from the middle of the range, the 1.5kg Delmonico (boneless sirloin like the original New York classic) at $107. It arrives on a board, sliced into half a dozen thick slabs, oozing juice, but its edges deliciously charred from the broiler.
The anchovy butter and chimichurri I choose from the sauce list are perfect. If there is a better steak in town than this one, I'm looking forward to it. And I hope they serve the same wickedly creamy potato gratin that they do at The Grill.
A "deconstructed" cheesecake - scoops of filling, freeze-dried raspberries, cubes of lemon jelly - finishes matters off perfectly.
I see they now have 1110 Facebook fans. I'm not one of them, but I am certainly a fan.
Need to know
$ = $20-$40; $$ = 40-60; $$$ = $60+.
(Price guide reflects three courses for one person without drinks.)
Federal St is Auckland's eating-out central, its completion perfectly timed for the Rugby World Cup and certain to remain a major presence. Bellota, Depot and dine all deliver. Check the website above and enjoy.