When you consider the money swashing around Takapuna, the zillion-dollar homes and the flash cars, it is odd that there has been such a paucity of high-end eating places. Now the people behind the central Auckland Imperial Lane development of Roxy fame have taken an ambitious punt over the bridge to fill that upmarket gap.
Their new development is a large-scale venture, with five different eating and drinking spaces and food ranging from bar snacks to an elaborate degustation option, which has no menus and where, having listed your likes and dislikes, you are fed with what the kitchen chooses to conjure up.
Mind you, the menu provided in the main bistro restaurant, where we chose to eat, is somewhat idiosyncratic. It merely indicates a topic and you can, I suppose, take a lucky dip approach and see what you get. Those who like a little more information have to find the glossary.
The item cryptically listed as tails, for example, is described in the glossary as having pork tails, scampi tails, sesame, pork scratchings, caramelised parsnip and garlic aioli.
One of our first courses was listed simply as celeriac. The actual concoction featured celeriac, panko crumbs, celeriac brunoise, parmesan and chervil. It was, as the well-trained waitperson accurately explained, a bit like risotto and with interesting flavours. My vanilla-cured salmon came with raw kingfish, lemon snow, pickled cucumber, mint, thyme, chilli and more and had a particularly scented appeal.
When it came to the mains I was intrigued by the concept of a carrot cake snapper but I'm not convinced about sous vide for fish. Then I remembered I don't actually like carrot cake. So I opted for the slightly more conventional ox cheeks and scotch, which was a rich assembly of gelatinous cheeks, lean and tender steak with a thick jus.
Our other main was equally good lamb rump, with trimmings including macadamia, braised shoulder and, if we were not mistaken, celeriac again.
The dessert list is short but as inventive as the other courses. We opted for wild strawberry, a melange including yoghurt meringue, strawberry soup, berries, vanilla and artichoke icecream. The overall effect was sweet without being cloying.
I had the Roquefort and white chocolate, notable for not actually having Roquefort listed in the ingredients. But, as the staff pointed out, it was there in the bavarois as a hint of flavour. The olive oil sable, which was one of the many elements here, was remarkable but perhaps a bit heavy in flavour for the rest. Even where one felt there was the occasional wrong note, there was no doubting the skill and imagination that piqued the interest.
For a new restaurant where you might anticipate teething troubles, the staff were excellent, plentiful, well-versed in what they were offering and, most importantly, knew where to go if they didn't know the answers.
The building itself is a little cavernous but not uncomfortable and it was hopping with atmosphere and joie de vivre for our visit on a cheerless evening. In summer, with the outside areas in full occupation, it promises to be stunning and a much needed addition to the Takapuna scene.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $218 for two first courses, two mains and two desserts and five glasses of wine.
Wine list: A decent list that will, we were told, be expanded with some more options from overseas.
Verdict: Lively and entertaining in more ways than one. Not, perhaps, the place if you like your food plain and simple but perfect if you're game for a little adventure.