There's more on this butcher's block than mere meat. In fact by the time I returned from an overseas trip to find Botswana Butchery had opened its doors in Auckland's historic Ferry Building, I was champing at the bit to get there. It had been widely reviewed while I was away and at only three weeks old had already been included in a list proclaiming Auckland's best restaurants for 2012. Some people were calling that a bit rich, so I took myself off to find out if it deserved to be there.
Botswana Butchery exists in both Queenstown and Wanaka so, with Auckland, that constitutes a chain I'd say. The fit-out for this latest addition is full of splendour. The dining room features a carefully calculated mismatch of magnificent lampshades and big colourful padded velvet armchairs that add to a feeling of opulence. Sumptuous, regal, Alice in Wonderland-like are all descriptions I'd use. Gaudy, already dated, tacky, are ones I've heard others bandy about. For my part, I'm usually very forgiving of whatever fit-out greets me as it's what follows in the food and manner of the staff that will most likely leave a lasting impression.
Chef Stuart Rogan, previously of The Grill, gives us a menu that makes it immediately obvious that a steakhouse, this is not. Sure, there are more than 10 different cuts of red meat to choose from that can be assembled with different sauces and sides, but there's plenty more on offer so most bases are covered.
Eyeing up a full-on meatfest for my main, I made a reserved choice of starter - the "new style" prawn cocktail. Served with salty pancetta and avocado cream, the poached prawns were sweet and firm and crisp grated apple and cos leaves were a cleansing foil for the mayonnaise. The pork scratchings were a disaster - the longer I chewed, the more they determined to not go anywhere.
Meanwhile my dinner friend was having fun assembling his own peking duck rolls. Shredded duck is served alongside cucumber, carrot and spring onions and a small bamboo basket containing warm pancakes. Though it hardly pushes the boundaries (and was in need of seasoning), it's a cute idea and it aligns with Botswana Butchery's philosophy of "fun dining".
To test the non-butcher's block menu, I'd selected the aromatic short rib as my main. What a tremendous dish. Cooked long and slow until the meat is soft and barely able to cling to the bone, the beef is spiced with the sultry flavours of star anise and black pepper and it is served atop gorgeous creamed leeks and blanched green beans.
Over the table my dinner friend had turned all Fred Flintstone on me and was gnawing his way through an enormous ribeye steak served on the bone. Perfectly cooked (sans sous vide, we asked), it was juicy and tender. There was a mix-up with the sauces and we got two of the three we'd ordered - blue cheese and tomato chilli - while the green peppercorn one turned into red wine jus for some reason.
We'd heard the service was a bit under par and there were little niggles, like this one, throughout our evening but the staff were well-intentioned and helpful so here's hoping it's a case of beginners' nerves.
We completely over-ordered in the sides department with oozy macaroni cheese, overly honeyed parsnips, crunchy onion rings and a cabbage slaw laced with smoky chipotle mayonnaise but the staff kindly offered to package them up to take home. A nice touch of Southern hospitality and charm.
To finish, we shared a dessert of pineapple tarte tartin.
Golden pastry was topped with thin leaves of warm caramelised pineapple and coconut ice cream, which anchored us firmly back in the Pacific.
Though I wouldn't put Botswana Butchery in the serious contender bracket just yet we had still delighted in wining and dining in the vibrant atmosphere of this new waterfront restaurant.
Cuisine: Modern NZ
From the menu: Prawn cocktail $24.95, Botswana Peking duck $24.95, aromatic beef shortrib $37.95, ribeye on the bone 47.95, sides of onion rings $7.95, macaroni cheese $8.75, caramelised parsnips $.8.95, green cabbage with chipotle mayonnaise $7.95, pineapple tarte tatin $15.95
Drinks: Fully licensed
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