Four or so years ago, after a hard day's espalier frame-building (the birds got the plums this year, but we're enjoying the apples, thanks for asking) we toddled off to The Mount in Mt Eden and enjoyed an excellent meal.
The Mount closed not long afterwards - not, I hasten to add, as the result of my review, which was complimentary. The Mulberry has taken over the space, tweaked the décor, and settled in for what I hope will be a long haul.
The bar area at street level is much improved since Mount days, more comfort and less cold concrete. We were greeted with a grin and waved upstairs to the restaurant, a substantial space divided up into conversation areas with sofas near the second bar, and a handsome dining room, all white linen and comfortable chairs. As we were the first diners of the evening, we were shown to the table by the window, thus scoring not only the view but also the noise of the traffic below. It wasn't particularly intrusive, but the waitress apologised anyway.
We ordered our drinks - The Ned sauvignon blanc for me and a Little Creatures beer from Fremantle for Bill - and dithered over the menu. I was tempted by the terrine, but only until I heard that whitebait was on offer. Rather than the usual fritter, the starter resembled three little pikelets. They were stuffed with the wee fish and set off with an aioli delicately flavoured with crayfish. Bill's crayfish cocktail invoked memories of the ubiquitous 1960s shrimp offering, but totally outclassed them. The sauce did not overpower the crustacean, neither did the greenery.
In order to be able to accommodate dessert, Bill was in mind to order the pork belly in entree size, but succumbed to the lure and went for the big one. And this is where executive chef Sal Grant really showed his class. The pork had been deconstructed and then rebuilt in cylinders wrapped in a thin skin and topped with crunchy crackling. The accompanying granny smith apple slices were raw and crisp, the pumpkin unadulterated and the fig slaw sweet and unusual.
My duck confit was tender and juicy and generous to a fault, and the tamarind jus was sweet and spicy.
We should probably have stopped right there, but in order to experience the full range of Grant's prowess, we ordered the vanilla pannacotta. It was creamy and smooth, and came topped with rhubarb jelly, tiny cubes of rhubarb and a slice of coconut shortbread. Referencing past fights over dessert at this address, I had almost to wrestle Bill to the ground in order to get a spoonful.
A glass of armagnac, purely as a digestif, and we staggered off into the night, replete.
The Mulberry is better than its website would indicate, and the inventive and well-executed food make it one of the better dining places in the area. Welcome to the neighbourhood, Mr Grant.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $190.50 for two entrées, two mains, one side dish, one dessert, three beers and three glasses of wine plus a liqueur.
Wine list: Lengthy, as you would expect in a bar. A good range by the glass, mostly local wines but some imported. The beer selection is pretty impressive too.
Verdict: "Gastro-style" implies a bar with food. The Mulberry is better, it's a proper restaurant, deserving serious attention.