Lilian, Grey Lynn: 17 - Great
What makes one restaurant more wildly popular than another?
Good food, obviously. Location helps and excellent service is paramount. But in this city sometimes it seems a less tangible force is at work - like, one day all of Auckland's influencers woke up and declared: This. So much, this.
Grey Lynn's Lilian has been thus anointed. My dining companion reported the first time she visited every patron was wearing white. In my mind's eye, I saw an army of women in the same crisp cotton button-through with a slightly A-line skirt. Do you know the one I mean? It's been billowing around Queen St all summer; a tent in search of a break in property prices so its owner can buy on Waiheke and take shelter in the manner they'd like to become accustomed.
Statistics show that 98 per cent of Lilian's clientele are saving for an electric car and 86 per cent saw Fleetwood Mac live. When it finally rains, they plan to spend the day inside with their children, making beeswax wrap-flavoured kombucha from the kit they got for Kirihimete. In short, these are the people I would be, if I too had bought a Peter Stitchbury while he was still at art school.
Lilian (where Siostra used to be) does not take bookings. At 5.45pm, the outside seats were heaving with a neighbourhood vibe - it felt like people knew each other; had seen each other around. It felt like sunny, smiley, good times ahead.
We went inside. There is not a lot of room between some of those tables and half an hour later, all available space was occupied. We ordered a peach and ricotta dish ($14) on the recommendation of the woman whose lap I would have been sitting on had I moved a couple of inches to my right. Excellent choice, with cheese that was more creamy than curdy - a luscious foil to sharp-sweet roasted peaches and crunchy hazelnuts.
It was a stinking hot evening and Lilian's small, shared serves were perfectly pitched to urban picnicking (room temperature food, but chairs with backs, glasses with stems, etc). Best dish: Raw trevally ($20). The fish had been plopped on slices of orange and there was a great, grown-up bitter-sour background note. It had, I think, been lightly cured in lemon or even grapefruit juice. Add tiny slivers of pickled rhubarb, salty capers and a swirl of oil and, for a second or two, even the slick of sweat pooling behind my bra strap felt sexy. This was food made for lusty humidity.
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A slice of chicken liver parfait ($11) was small but dangerously rich. It melted in the mouth like butter. Take your waitperson's advice and order a side of puffy, woodfired bread ($7) because, inexplicably, it comes with none. I doubt you would get away with this in Europe.
I fear we did not do full justice to the menu, which runs to the likes of lamb ribs and market fish (whole flounder on the night of our visit) with crayfish butter. The steak is a woodfired bavette-cut with smoked beef fat tomatoes and horseradish and, if that is not an excuse to fall off the My Plant-Based Bag wagon, I don't know what is. I might have actually ordered this had it not been so bloody hot inside. Restaurateurs can't control the weather, but a few strategically placed fans would have improved comfort levels.
Meanwhile, back at the actual oven, our main course. In my book, pizza should always come with tomato, but "bianca" is the new darling of the dining set and Lilian's all-white offering ($25) has tuatua, fennel cream, parsley, chilli, garlic and pecorino cheese. Shellfish shrinks. You'd need a lot more than we had here to counter the chewy, puffy base, but think of the tuatua as a random spike of flavour against a sublime sea of tangy cheese and aniseedy vege and, well: This. So much, this.
Sip the list: Wow, what a list! The wine buyer at Lillian has packed a shedtonne (technical term) of whistle-inducing wines into a single sheet of paper and it's quite the sauce to look at. Seven sparklers, 18 whites, 18 reds and a couple of rosés deliver a smorgasbord of sippers that also show a good spread across organic, biodynamic and "natural" styles. And, most excellently, at least half of the entire list is available by the glass. Start with a glass of Rivarose Brut Prestige Rosé ($12) then work your way through such superstars as the Redmetal Hawke's Bay albarino ($14), Amisfield Central Otago dry riesling ($13) TW Estate Gisborne chardonnay ($10), Black Barn Hawke's Bay rosé ($11), the Decibel Martinborough pinot noir ($15) and the glorious Li Veli "Askos" Susumaniello from Puglia ($16). Nicely done, Lillian. — Yvonne Lorkin
472 Richmond Rd, Grey Lynn
WE SPENT: $135 for two
WE THOUGHT: 17 - Great