Vegetarians and the faint of heart should avert their eyes: Bambi was bloody delicious.
It is probably poor taste to note that the standout dish at the recently reopened O'Connell Street Bistro involved smoke. But, nine months after the kitchen fire that partially destroyed the iconic eatery, I utterly recommend the venison.
Manuka-smoked wild red tussock deer ($45) was superb. Slabs of pink, gamey meat were served with more meat (rib, mixed with shiitake mushroom in a petite umami-plus pithivier) and more meat (home-cured pancetta), parsnips and a beetroot jus.
It was everything that should be good about bistro food served in a buzzy dining room on a thunderously rainy night. I imagine the menu will get lighter as the evenings get longer, but, based on our experience, you can't go wrong with anything that used to have a pulse and four legs.
Also recommended: lamb rump with meltingly rich truffle-glazed sweetbreads ($42), pommes anna (aka spuds and butter) and broad beans. Classic gentleman's food, and the gentleman in question was very happy.
What is it about the European-style bistro that engenders gender stereotypes? O'Connell Street's ambience is, thankfully, devoid of the usual subliminal big-swinging-chequebook messaging - no nude art on these walls - but nevertheless, across the table, the women nibbled on prawns and goat's cheese.
Not really. Prawns with linguine and crispy serrano ham ($28 for an entree-sized serve) were swathed in a sweet marsala cream. Agria and goat's cheese gnocchi ($35) had been poached and then pan-fried. It was a pretty dish, but with roasted carrots, candied olives and the chewy caramel profile of black garlic, the overall effect was also very sweet.
The actual sweets? It's hard to go past a classic creme brulee. O'Connell Street cleverly does its Tahitian vanilla version in a wide, shallow dish so you get maximum crack for your buck. Coconut cheesecake wasn't coconutty enough, but order the "toffee apple" granny smith sorbet for the magical sugar shell that glows on the plate like something Homer Simpson accidentally brought home from work. Fruit desserts frequently bear no resemblance to their parentage, so it was literally refreshing to find cubes of apple in the brown butter crumb base.
In case you're wondering, we did have entrees: scallops and parmesan custard ($28), quail and chestnut cream ($28) and confit egg with smoked mushrooms ($23) were all sublime; the bread and Lewis Road Creamery butter was complimentary and the $10 "seasonal greens" were a late winter motherlode of broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts and courgettes (with bacon).
You need money to eat at O'Connell Street, but - and this is not always the case at an expensive restaurant - you feel moneyed eating there. The chairs are the most comfortable I've sat in this year; the service is professional and easy and while you can spend very large on drinks, nobody looks pained when you order the $54 bottle of pinot gris.
It's an investment, but one that is richly rewarded.