Auckland has a new darling and her name is Roxy. It rhymes with foxy and that's how I felt being swept up the stairs to the upper level bar and dining area of Imperial Lane's fine dining restaurant.
The design of the space is enough to take your breath away and not because it is grandiose in any way but because of its elegant, urban feel. At the top of the stairs you're surprised with a rooftop courtyard, open to the skies and the neighbouring buildings - a simple bar, set against the wall, and a dining space that seems to sit, suspended, among a constellation of spherical pendant star-like lights. Plush black suede armchairs sit around generously proportioned square tables.
As we were seated, a sense of joyfulness overcame me - I felt like I was embarking on a new adventure. Roxy shows her fine dining side without any hint of stuffiness. Instead it's all about the attention to detail and service that is so smooth that you feel like you belong there. The wait staff showed us such personal attention throughout the evening that when I caught sight of our main waiter serving another table, I almost felt he was cheating on us!
Heading up the kitchen at Roxy is ex-Matterhorn chef Sean Marshall. When our entrees arrived we gasped. At the look. At the aroma. A plate of bomba rice, that infinitely glorious paella rice that sucks up liquid, supported two perfect rounds of poached crayfish. If you enjoy the musky sweetness of a lobster bisque then you will love this dish. It came served with a separate plate of green grapes, sharp almond curd and verjuice sorbet, designed to cleanse, but not erase, the richness of the rice dish. It worked perfectly.
Our other starter, boned rabbit from Marlborough, was artfully combined with candied carrots, slivers of soft shitake and a sweet sherry emulsion. The dish was underpinned with the gentle flavour of cardamom, that wonderful spice which manages to find a home in both savoury and sweet dishes. We sighed with contentment as our plates were cleared.
Where starters had seemed playful and inventive, the mains were a much more serious affair. The menu offers no choices for side dishes as each plate is considered complete in itself. Razorback pig - the shoulder, the belly and the head - was beautifully combined with puha, Granny Smith apple puree and gingerbread and for me, this was a heavenly creation, accompanied by a glass of Te Whare Ra gewurztraminer. I didn't want it to end.
The aged beef, sliced and fanned out over a crisp potato galette and spinach, was served with a bone marrow quenelle and pressed oxtail, and these accompaniments were astonishingly good. The beef, however, was not as good as I'd expected. There was no doubt it was tender enough, but it lacked the full flavour and either had not been aged well enough or - I suspect - the method of cooking used had been sous vide. Chefs may well disagree with me, but I firmly believe that it doesn't suit some preparations of red meat if it's flavour you're after. Then again, perhaps we should have just requested some salt and that would have remedied it.
The desserts at Roxy are as miraculous as the other dishes. The baba was a beauty. Sweet and soft, soaked in orange and served with citrus, candied fennel and, interestingly, olive oil and salt, it was more evidence of the brilliance of Roxy's kitchen in successfully combining ingredients in an unpredictable manner.
A raspberry souffle with cocoa icecream, tasted like a summer's day in Nelson. The classic combination of raspberries and chocolate is dreamy and I only tentatively added the liquorice sauce, intended to be poured into the souffle, as my preference was to leave these two lovers alone.
Roxy is the sort of place where you want to move into and never leave. Chef Marshall has a great feel for food, the wait staff are impeccable in their service and the knowledge of what they are providing and the whole experience is exhilarating and soothing at the same time.
My kind of adventure.
From the menu: Marlborough rabbit $27, poached crayfish $27, razorback pig $42, aged beef $42, raspberry souffle $18, baba $18
Drinks: Fully licensed - extensive wine list