Restaurant review: Federal Delicatessen, Auckland CBD

By Kim Knight

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Address: 86 Federal St, Auckland.
Phone: (09) 363 7184
Rating out of 10: Food: 8.5, Service: 9, Value: 8, Ambience: 8

Federal Delicatessen at 86 Federal Street, Auckland. Photo / Greg Bowker
Federal Delicatessen at 86 Federal Street, Auckland. Photo / Greg Bowker

The word "moist" gets a bad rap. In 2012, New Yorker readers voted it the word they'd most like to scrub from the English language.

Subsequent research reckoned three factors drove this discontent: the sound of the word, its connotation and (this seems unfair) the fact that its unpleasantness was already well-documented.

All this by way of a warning to word-sensitive readers. The food at the Federal Delicatessen is moist. The smoked kahawai cake is flavoursome and moist. The house pastrami is juicy and moist. The chicken in the matzo ball soup is so moist it will make you dream of catching bad colds in New York.

The soup sits in the "New York steam kettle" section of the menu, alongside a mussel and pastrami chowder and a clam cioppino. Order to share, and they'll split the portions before they get to the table, said our server, for whom absolutely nothing was a problem.

The stock tasted like several hundred roast chickens shoved into one tiny bowl. The Fed's version of the traditional Jewish Passover dish (the balls signify the unleavened bread eaten during the exodus from Egypt), is made with bagel dumplings, and the texture is akin to a firm, dunked biscuit.

The restaurant, next door to Al Brown's flagship Depot, is the chef's take on an "old-school New York Jewish deli" (his Best Ugly bagels feature throughout). A raging success since its 2013 opening, last autumn it closed for two months following a major kitchen fire. Tonight, customers are queuing to get a high, kitchenside stool; booths and tables were filled long ago. We're toasting our early arrival with a Maude pinot gris - $58 a bottle and served in robust, squat tumblers that, frankly, I hate drinking wine from, but they probably last twice as long as as stemware in a restaurant.

Our server recommends the smoked kahawai cakes ($15) and everything about them is perfect. That moist fish is combined with soft-to-the-bite chunks of potato, compacted into a "cake", lightly crumbed, and pan fried to crunchy. A pickle and dill-packed mayonnaise adds even more texture and flavour.

Food at Federal Delicatessen. Photo / Babiche Martens
Food at Federal Delicatessen. Photo / Babiche Martens

Fish cakes. Brisket. Iceberg lettuce. Meatloaf. If you're flashing back to boarding school, fear not. The salad comes as a wedge ($8.50) with blue cheese and candied walnuts. The turkey meatloaf ($14-$24) is studded with pecans and cranberries. The brisket looks like corned beef, but its smoky, spicy flavour is a revelation (and you get a huge amount for $25). Sarah said it made her palate curious. What did they do to make it taste so good? What could we eat next?

Montreal poutine. Chips, cheese-curd and gravy ($12 for a large). I spent a stock-cube gravy-doused teen year in Canada. The only thing that would make The Fed's poutine taste more like the original would be a side of tickets to an ice hockey game.

We split dessert, but that's not as self-sacrificing as it sounds. They offer four pies, with a three-way combo for $18. Banana toffee with a moreish caramel popcorn topping and a really good ginger base. Tangy lemon meringue pie and a New York cheesecake that was, said Sarah, "so good I wanted to dive in it and live there for a while". Fortunately, The Fed does breakfast.

Sample fare: Matzo ball soup, $9-$17; lox and buckwheat blini, $19; lemon sole, $24; turkey meatloaf, $14-$24; beetroot salad $9; Montreal poutine $9-$12; bagels and sandwiches $14-$22; pumpkin pie, $10; Moa apple cider by the jug, $20.
We spent: $157 for two.

- Canvas

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