Phone: (09) 638 7236
Rating out of 10: Food: 7, Service: 7, Value: 7, Ambience: 7
Novelty is all very well, and those who eat out regularly expect to have their taste buds tantalised with the latest exotic grain from the highlands of Peru or some antique vegetables organically grown in Oamaru. But there are times when the idea of something very familiar is appealing and it is also no bad test of a restaurant to see how it handles a traditional dish.
There's little more basic than steak frites and Molten provided me with a pretty decent example. The Scotch fillet was very tender, with a good flavour, cooked exactly as I requested and topped with a hearty browned butter dressing. There were plenty of crisp shoestring frites, although I believe they should arrive piping hot rather than warm. All in all, it was rather better than some such efforts I've had at places that claim to be steak specialists.
But all the food here was of a sound and satisfying nature, without straying far from the mainstream of what I think of as the school of neighbourhood restaurant with ambition.
To start, they offer a choice of charcuterie to assemble your own antipasti. We went for a duck liver parfait, which was attractively served in a spring-topped pot sealed with butter, a touch that reminded me of the days when you could give your guests butter-topped food without being accused of crimes against the arteries. The parfait was smooth, full-flavoured and well-matched with a sour cherry dressing. The prosciutto was standard and the roasted beets, heirloom of course, were sweet with contrasting hazelnuts, although the morsels of cheese seemed a little redundant.
The servings, particularly of the duck liver, were generous and my wife was glad she had turned her attention away from the lamb rump with burghul wheat, grapes and red onion and the grilled spatchcock with butternut, toasted farro, chard, pine nuts, raisins and rosemary. Instead, she opted for a small serving of the potato thyme gnocchi, which was good with a tasty lamb shank ragu and capers.
I almost joined her in the less substantial approach as I'm a sucker for salt cod, which they offered in a risotto with spinach, poached egg and truffle oil. But I'd arrived predisposed to steak and chips and was not unhappy I stuck to it.
The size of the previous courses ruled out the honey-soaked baba, banana orange marmalade with Appleton rum and raisin icecream, and only a reviewers' sense of duty led us to share a Valrhona chocolate cream with hazelnut gelato decorated with a frail little wafer. Both the cream and gelato were bursting with flavour.
The service was engaging, particularly in those early moments when you've retreated from the cold and rain and need a little attention, and maintained a good standard when we had settled down to watch the non-stop stream of airport buses and delivery trucks navigating through the downpours.
We had enjoyed a sedate evening and if your taste is for something a little livelier we noticed Molten's wine bar next door, which offers a reduced menu, was doing a roaring trade.
Our meal: $172 for three antipasti, two mains, one dessert and four glasses of wine.
Wine list: An impressive wine list, with a good range of imported bottles and a good selection by the glass.
Verdict: Sound food, sound service and a welcoming atmosphere. Not challenging but comfortable. You don't ask for much more in a neighbourhood restaurant.