Phone: (09) 377 1884
Rating out of 10: Food: 8 , Service: 8, Value: 7, Ambience: 8
Auckland Council has erected a reassuring sign declaring that it's business as usual in O'Connell St. This, presumably is an effort to reassure customers and support businesses in a street presently so blighted by reconstruction work that it looks more like central Christchurch than Auckland.
It seems a forlorn gesture, but if our visit to O'Connell Street Bistro on a midweek night is any test, it does actually appear that normal life continues. The place was pleasantly busy with a mix of the eminent of Auckland, overseas business types, a family occasion and a sprinkling of fond couples. The space is small, elegant and intimate without being too cheek-by-jowl and, if you don't stop for a drink in the tiny bar, you are ushered into the dining area with welcoming ease.
This is a place with a reputation. It's not the setting for culinary fireworks, although imagination is at work. This is a home for civilised comfort and ease and where, as a matter of course, you expect sound performances all round, in the kitchen and the front of house.
It is, you might say, well established and part of the establishment without being stuffy.
The dinner menu is of the convention that rests on the pattern of a first course, main and dessert with the usual suspects featuring as the main components of each dish although they also offer express pre-theatre and lunch options and set dinner and lunch menus.
I could hardly have been more orthodox in my first choice of Bluff oysters. For some reason, perhaps because they are so brutally expensive, I haven't had many of these stars this season. They arrived on the half-shell with the simplest accompaniment of chardonnay vinegar and were flawless, the full flavour demonstrating why they justify the usually misplaced accolade "unique".
Our other first course was another rock solid dependable option, sweet, seared
scallops prettily and tastily dressed up with almond puree and slivers of chorizo and Serrano ham and with a sherry reduction.
When it came to main courses the traditionalist in me was tempted by the eye fillet with a veal kidney pie and braised onions, but that might be best saved for the depths of winter.
The bluenose with risotto, mussels, clams, slow-cooked leek and smoked roe butter had to be considered but the veal fillet pushed itself into selection.
This was, as expected, cooked to perfection. The truffle gnocchi were apt companions, the crumbed veal sweetbreads were delicious and the whole rested on a concoction of peas, broad beans and bacon with porcini jus. If I had a quibble it was to wonder why chefs are so convinced that peas are best in industrial quantities but I concede I am not the greatest fan of the pea.
Our other main course was another old friend, confit duck leg with roast duck breast served with red cabbage, pear and citrus slaw and excellent sautee potatoes, crisp on the outside and tender within.
The dark chocolate ganache to follow was as rich as we had hoped and complemented with a fresh quince and orange granita. I went for the cheese option with a couple of choices, a good nutty Neudorf hard sheep's cheese and a Kapiti Kikorangi blue. Both were served in good condition and rounded off a satisfying evening.
We had eaten in comfortable surroundings with the fairly gentle babble of other diners' voices dominating the soundscape, the food had been good and the service difficult to fault. The construction horror in the street is well worth braving.
Our meal: $247 for two first courses, two mains, one dessert and two cheeses and four glasses of wine.
Our wine: The magnificent wine list is one of the hallmarks here. We chose from the listings by the glass with a mellow 2013 Ata Rangi Lismore Martinborough pinot gris, a 2012 Maude Central Otago pinot noir and the 2010 Grant Burge Holy Trinity GSM from the Barossa.
Verdict: An act of high class in an establishment favourite. Not one
for the thrill-seeker but some very young people were treated with the same meticulous attention as our neighbouring table of legal luminaries.