Set up in Henderson's brand new Whoa Studios along with a theatre and extremely hip children's playground, The Grounds is a surprisingly sophisticated restaurant and cafe. Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. Despite finding its home among throngs of excited children, The Grounds is the newest brainchild of chef Ben Bayly, who has helmed award-winning restaurants Baduzzi and The Grove for years. The Grounds' high ceilings and big, open space is almost barnlike, but surely no barn was ever decked out so elegantly. The designer wooden lampshades hanging from the gabled ceiling are a particular highlight. And if you seat yourself far enough back in the restaurant's cavernous mouth, you can't even hear the kids squealing outside.
SUSTENANCE & SWILL
The Grounds offers a selection of shared plates whether you're dining day or night, and while the selection is somewhat eclectic, it works well. We ordered four plates, starting with the Hauraki kingfish with sake jelly, avocado, creme fraiche and horseradish ($13). The fish comes sashimi-style, with little blobs of the other ingredients dotted around the plate. The flavours were light, fresh and summery.Next came the organic lamb kofta ($6) in a Middle Eastern-style tomato sauce. My friend declares the mince tender and delicious. The highlight of the meal was the courgette spaghetti with prawn bolognese ($12). I described it as sophisticated comfort food, which felt pretentious but my friend agreed. The prawn meat was buttery but light and I had to stop myself drinking the leftover broth. The courgette "pasta" is created using a lathe and makes The Grounds a great destination for the gluten-intolerant. We finished with a plate of crispy potatoes with parmesan ($12), which were crisp-like rather than fry-like, I was sad to discover. We were full after four plates but they're not the biggest, so if you're hungrier, prepare to order quite a few.
The Grounds had opened only the day before our visit and the staff, many of whom appeared to be local teenagers working their first summer jobs, were friendly but extremely fresh. They'll find their feet soon I'm sure - just be patient as they figure out how to work the tablets used to take orders. However, all our food arrived quickly and without any muddle-ups. I had an earthy, spicy, slow-pressed ginger carrot juice ($8), which deserves an honourable mention but felt underwhelmed by the little cherry chocolate icecream ($4.5) we shared, which was a bit icy and lacked flavour. Despite that, the icecream cabinet is worth a peek simply for how beautiful all the different flavours look stacked together.