Restaurant review: Onslow Bar and Eatery, Mt Eden

By Kim Knight

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Address: 191 Dominion Rd, Mt Eden
Phone: (09) 638 7243
Rating out of 10: Food: 8, Service: 8, Value: 7, Ambience: 7

Onslow Bar and Eatery on Dominion Rd. Photo / Michael Craig
Onslow Bar and Eatery on Dominion Rd. Photo / Michael Craig

Something excellent has happened inside the glass box at the top of Dominion Rd.

Enter to a soundtrack from the cool end of the 80s (New Order, not New Kids on the Block). Take a seat at a booth or a stool at the bar. Better yet, take the seat you phoned for two days ago, because finally here's a new restaurant that doesn't expect you to cab halfway across town on the remote off-chance it can accommodate your party of four's desire to eat, drink and spend money.

The waitress arrived like a well-oiled machine. She advised tonight's lamb was
grilled not braised and that the $32 shared platter contained most of the "small" end of the menu. Sharing makes me anxious. The prawn-versus-politeness ratio never ever falls in my favour. I instruct everybody to go it alone.

Onslow doesn't actually do prawns. Small plates run from the usual (bread, almonds, polenta chips) to the more exciting than usual - crumbed artichokes with smashed avocado, meatballs in shakshuka sauce, etc. You get two artichokes for $16.

Pricey, but the textural interplay made them a joy to eat.

One of our group thought the meatballs a touch dry, but I liked that you could really taste meat and they swam in a rich and well-balanced Middle Eastern-style spiced tomato sauce.

Rock star of round one was, however, the panfried chicken livers. Sweet with shallots and sherry, they were rich and creamy, with that distinctive metallic whack against the taste buds. Best $14 I've spent on food this year and, yes, they're free-range.

Onslow's executive chef, Pip Wylie, has a huge pedigree that runs from the top position at Peter Gordon's original Sugar Club to stints at London's River Cafe and, more recently, Ripe Deli in Grey Lynn. This new venture, she told Canvas (when we rang to check about the livers), is a return to her passion.

She's cooking her Mediterranean and Middle Eastern-inspired food in the fishbowl that used to be Two Monkeys and then became, briefly, Peasant (excellent food but you still felt like a guppy).

The Onslow rebuild has achieved a remarkable intimacy, with clever spaces and great lighting - but all the indoor ambience in the world can't compensate for an outdoor dash to the loo on a rainy night. It was the only real, err, bum note of the night though. Our second bottle of Gisselbrecht ($44) was on its way, there was tempranillo by the glass and we'd finally decided on shared mains.

And then: reverent silence when the ras-el-hanout rubbed pork shoulder arrived. Blistered crackling glistening with fat. Meat that was obviously going to cut with a fork. Why hadn't we ordered two? Well then we would have missed out on the steak. Aged, rested and savoury with truffle oil, it was the surprise table favourite.

The grilled beef and a beetroot side-salad. Photo / Michael Craig
The grilled beef and a beetroot side-salad. Photo / Michael Craig

A $20 dish of two field mushrooms and four strips of halloumi was ordinary, however, vegetable lovers are well served by an extensive list of sides. An anticipated fried chickpea salad was unfortunately off the menu, but chunky beetroot with mint, orange and maple walnut accents was delicious; a fennel, carrot and celeriac remoulade was heavy on the carrot. Spuds come as turmeric mash or crunchy spiced. If you want chips, they're polenta ($12 with sumac aioli).

And if you want dessert? Others enjoyed the chocolate fruit and nut terrine, but I say get the cake. Lemon, cardamom and yoghurt with a brilliant crumb and a sticky exterior, it was everything that makes a rainy night better.

Onslow does solidly delicious food in a lovely and lively space. My umbrella and I will definitely be going back.

Sample fare: Meatballs and shakshuka sauce $16; chargrilled squid with chilli jam $14; grilled beef with truffle oil $24; halloumi mushrooms $20; half a grilled "Moorish" chicken $32; tomato, kale and herb salad $14; wine by the glass $9-$15; dessert $12-$14.
We spent: $297 for four.

- Canvas

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