Herald on Sunday Rating: 2.5/5
Address: Sky Tower, Cnr Victoria and Federal Sts
Ph: (09) 363 6000
If the old adage held true about the inverse correlation between the quality of the view and the quality of the food at any given restaurant, Orbit - the revolving restaurant 200m up the Sky Tower - would surely be the worst in the country.
It is not. It was pretty dreadful the first (and last) time I tried it in 2004: veal cooked medium-grey; a dressing on the greens which was either from a bottle or should have been put in one and thrown out; mini-pavlovas that had the texture of polystyrene. And it has improved, but it is still some distance from justifying its occupation of such an elevated piece of real estate.
The SkyCity area has become one of Auckland's gastronomic hot zones in the past 12 months. Before that, Peter Gordon's tapas bar Bellota and fancy restaurant Dine (all right, dine) were the high points in a pretty drab suite of restaurants. Now Al Brown's Depot and Sean Connolly's The Grill have lifted the game.
If there was an overarching plan behind this, it seems a shame that it did not address the restaurant at the top of the tower - or, if it did, that it did so inadequately. Somebody has obviously intervened, since only one dish we ordered was virtually inedible, which is a major improvement on 2004. But the place felt drab and tired and could do with a serious redecorating.
Plainly they are trying to keep it approachable - you can get three courses (chosen a la carte, not as a set menu) for $69 - but, aside from the fab view, the whole experience was devoid of the wow factor.
They do their best to make you feel welcome, even a bit special, when you arrive, to the extent that they can when they're essentially ushering you through a security procedure. The parking validation, which lowered the ruinous cost to $5 for three hours, was appreciated, too. It soothed my anguish during the 20 minutes that we spent after dinner searching for the Corolla in the car park, which was presumably designed by MC Escher.
But the period between arrival and departure was one of mixed pleasures. I started with a carpaccio of seared beef that was sliced so tissue-paper thin that it was practically painted on the plate.
Presumably it was an attempt to cut costs - the meat can't have weighed more than a few grams - but fewer, thicker slices would have been much more satisfying.
The accompanying cracked wheat salad, which tasted a lot like the couscous you get in the deli at Countdown, added nothing but mass.
The Professor chose two vegetarian dishes, which turned out to be a serious error. Her "Moroccan" filo parcel bore no discernible trace of North Africa, although sumac allegedly seasoned an accompanying baby-beet salad. The parcel itself seemed to contain nothing other than Puhoi goat cheese; it was tasty enough, but you need to add imagination to ingredients to make a a dish.
Worse was to come in the form of what was billed a "mushroom and potato mille-feuille". The French name, which means "thousand-leaf", is usually applied to the French patissier's version of a custard slice known as a Napoleon - a delicate and delicious confection when done right. And, the advertised ingredients notwithstanding, one might have hoped for something similar here. But what arrived was really just scalloped potatoes flecked with mushroom. Served on a bed of mashed potato, in case you hadn't got the point, it was not so much a symphony of potato as a death march; think Swan Lake scored by Wagner.
My baked salmon, by contrast, was delicious, crusty but juicy, though the squid ink "paint" was one of the silliest ideas I've ever seen. To reduce one of the glories of Venetian cuisine to a hard smear that can be tasted only if literally chipped off with a thumbnail, is to display a preoccupation with appearances that verges on dangerous self-regard.
I rather liked the jaffa fondant dessert since it referenced a Kiwi classic, but quite what fresh mangoes were doing in a tapioca dessert in late May is anyone's guess.
If it's worth having an a la carte restaurant at the top of the tower, this one is still in need of a good shake-up, I reckon.