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Address: 33 Shortland St, Auckland City
Ph: (09) 309 8191
Unsurprisingly, one of the best things about the Wine Chambers restaurant is its dedication to wine. The entire room, with a stud so high they can accommodate not one but two huge chandeliers, is lined with shelves stacked with wine bottles. Everything else, from floors to tables, shelving and chairs, is dark-stained, with not even a place mat to get in the way.
Although I was initially dismayed by the small number of wines available by the glass on the extensive list, when we asked our highly knowledgeable waiter for the least-dry white, she suggested my favourite Pegasus riesling and offered to sell it by the glass or carafe. Then, bless her, she splashed a healthy slug into both Barb's and my glasses - "to get you started".
Brian was similarly happy with his Brancott Estate chardonnay and although they charge top dollar ($12 a glass in this case) the Wine Chambers' glasses are large - and they fill them generously. This is a restaurant that bills itself as a wine drinkers' paradise, after all.
Friends tell me that during the week, when the neighbouring law firm and corporates are in full swing, the place buzzes with lawyers and businessmen, heads together over a couple of glasses of merlot. Not tonight.
The "boy's own" atmosphere is possibly why the menu seems a tad old-fashioned. It's quite short and uncomplicated. The entree offerings include liver parfait, caesar salad, tiger prawns and licorice denver leg of venison, which also features on the main course.
Wine Chambers also offers a fancy-sounding degustation menu. I decided against it on grounds that most readers might find the cost of $79 a head plus $55 for matching wines too steep.
So on with the a la carte menu. My caesar salad was ordinary. The lettuce, though crunchy, was pale and the croutons were too small, hard and grainy. I couldn't find any bacon. Nor could the salad be saved by two thin anchovies draped over a poached egg.
Barb's prawns were much better without being astounding. Brian's liver parfait, with its whipped creamy texture, was a classic example of creamy pate.
The wine was good though, and while our fellow diners seemed to be having a fine time, I was distracted by the sight of rather listless-looking chefs on what was obviously a slow night. In my opinion, unless you've got a busy, showy kitchen, best keep it out of sight.
Our main courses were much better. My fish of the day was perfectly oven-baked hapuku served on a bed of potato dauphinoise. It was absolutely delicious, if a rather small serving.
Brian's venison was probably the standout dish. The meat was sliced thin and tender and the hint of licorice gave it an extraordinary, delicate tang. It came with a tasty celeriac puree, kumara fondant and peas.
Barb's chicken breast rolled with chorizo turned out fine: the meat tender and not overpowered by the sausage, and the cauliflower puree and polenta accompaniments were good too. Competent but not outstanding.
We certainly had room for desserts, which was fortunate as they turned out to be the high point of our meal. Again, there was that boarding school feel about the choices: sticky date pudding for Barb, creme brulee for me and chocolate mousse for Brian. All were competent, classic versions which was a relief in some ways.
Indeed our desserts just about summed up our evening: competent and classic without being brilliant; definitely no surprises. A great place to take wine-mad lawyers and relatives from Christchurch - just don't take your cool and funky cousin from Sydney.
The service was teutonic, generous and no-nonsense, with a hint of slapstick. Certainly Brian was very happy there. Barb and I, however, failed to find lift-off.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $256 for a carafe of Pegasus riesling, three glasses of Brancott Estate chardonnay, three entrees, main courses and desserts.
Wine list: Excellent, offering all the usual choices and many more besides. Generous servings.
Verdict: A wine-centred venue beloved by lawyers and business people, but lacking any sense of excitement or thrill.