It's the weekend, you've had enough of cooking for the week and you're keen to wrap your taste buds around one of the many incredible menus on offer in Auckland. Deciding where to go can be half the battle. Restaurant critic Kim Knight has done the hard work for you. Here are a few suggestions for you to try this weekend.
Botswana Butchery reviewed: Old school lessons in liver and livery
The food is lush and the furniture plush. Restaurant critic Kim Knight enjoys old-school comfort in the historic downtown ferry building.
"And we're going to get the pureed potatoes with chicken gravy," I said. "Because we can."
The waitperson grinned. "You're never going to hear an Irishman say you shouldn't get the potatoes."
Dear reader, I melted like a cold icecream on a warm tongue. We've been hearing a lot lately about the hospitality staffing crisis and slipping service standards but Botswana Butchery must have missed that memo. Quite simply, the most charming, efficient and lovely people brought us food, spoons and wine (and free tasting glasses of wine when we couldn't decide on more wine). Absolutely nothing was a problem. Top marks in a tough climate.
I booked a table here because it's smack in the middle of the just-finished $350m waterfront redevelopment and I wanted to check out the new public park space, Te Wānanga. Perhaps I'll go back in spring. Winter is for sitting in a giant velvet chair and eating quail.
That tiny little pan-seared bird with the matchstick thigh bones was fabulous. Pricey for a starter ($29.95) but you could ask for side plates and share - there's enough to ensure two people get a proper taste of both the protein and the roasted pear, parsnip and witloof salad that sits alongside. Ignore the viscous blob of something that could have been anything, because it tasted, weirdly, of nothing. I'm guessing it was a promised pear and honey dressing. Frankly, it needed more of both.
We were warned the devilled duck livers ($24.95) were hot and it was a necessary advisory for a sensationally spicy dish. We spent ages trying to figure out what was going the full 12 rounds on our taste buds and I was delighted when the waitperson said "cayenne pepper". In this world of cardiganned hipster chilli-heads, it was somehow perfect that this luxuriously old-fashioned dish (offal, madeira, onions, spinach) deployed the same secret spice as your grandmother's cheese scones.
Also, who knew ducks had such giant livers? The quantities were generous and there were kūmara crisps and two little triangles of white bread to soak up all that classically flavoured goodness. It was our unexpected favourite, comprising great flavours and that really lovely thing that happens to people of a certain age when they eat food like this - bitter-sweet conversations about the times our mothers made us eat kidneys, brains and other animal bits.
Botswana Butchery is situated inside the downtown ferry terminal. The historic brick archways are intact but the best way I can describe the vibe is new money trying to be old money, circa 1996. Meat cleavers and velvet; harlequin-patterned padding on one wall and many Champagne bottles on another. There is one truly gigantic, plush wing back throne of a chair per table (hide the steak knives if your group has two alphas?). It's all so over the top you can't help but love it. If the prices don't make this feel like Dinner As An Event, the surroundings - and the people watching - definitely do.
Go with it, and get the venison Wellington ($46.95). There's not another restaurant in Auckland where it feels more aesthetically appropriate to order a barely dead slab of meat encased in pastry. If somebody had handed me a cigar - or their husband - I wouldn't have blinked.
Meanwhile, back in 2021, some of that pastry was closer to raw than undercooked. I've never attempted to make even the more traditional beef version of this 1970s dinner party centrepiece, because the line between triumph and disaster is just too fine. Here, the loin meat was perfectly, glistening-red rare. A broad bean puree was chunky enough to actually taste like it had come straight from the garden and I loved the creamy sharpness of a splodge of cheese curd and the sweet tartness of pickled golden beetroot. Minus the pastry, this was winter dining at its most lush. However, if the main point of a Wellington is superb technique, then it needed more work.
Across the table, Caro was dwarfed by a thick fillet of pan-seared snapper with courgette spaghetti ($42.95). I'm peevishly opposed to describing vegetables as pasta (don't get me started on cauliflower "rice") but in this case it was all about the flavour - her plate was light, bright and prettily loaded with roasted whole tomatoes and several small shovelfuls of black mustard seeds. It came with a little pot of saffron sauce that was too sweet for our palates. Maybe, once mixed with the mustard, the balance would be better? We'll never know, because we didn't want to risk the fish.
Botswana Butchery's menu selection is almost as wide as its chairs. Starters for, um, Africa and an entire page that we didn't even look at featuring meat from the "butcher's block" and a seafood selection that you duly pair with sauces, salads and sides. We could not begin to contemplate dessert.
"Can we agree," I said, "That if we did, we'd get the creme brulee?" Caro nodded. And then we both had another spoonful of potato and gravy.
Botswana Butchery, Ferry Building, 99 Quay St, Auckland, ph (09) 307 6966. We spent: $237.70 for two.
BOTSWANA BUTCHERY DRINKS LIST
If you can't find something to slake your thirst in the 24-page-long list at Botswana Butchery, then that's a headscratcher. Of the 10 cocktail options, I'm all over the Cobra Kai (12yo Chivas, lemon, strawberry and rosemary) but Dry July-ers should investigate the three stylish-sounding mocktails, for sure. There's also 0 per cent Heineken, if you prefer. Beers are the usual suspects — Monteiths, Tuatara and the Euro green bottle brands — but try the Heke Lager from Waiheke Island if you want to get a little crafty on it. I love that there are a whopping 44 wines available on their standard "by the glass" menu. Heavily Kiwi-centric, the wine list is a thing of wonder.
Got a table for 10 and feel like bigging it up with a magnum? There are 13 to choose from and everyone could have a glass each of Villa Maria Keltern chardonnay, Te Mata Coleraine, Wooing Tree pinot noir or Mumm Grand Cordon from the same bottle. In addition to a monstertruck chardonnay and sauvignon section, there are 66 pinot noirs, including big names from Burgundy and Oregon, 18 cabernets, 17 merlots and 40 combined shiraz and syrah examples. Feel like a Kanonkop pinotage, a Montes carmenere, an Aydie tannat, a Coppola zinfandel or a Crusher petite sirah? Fill your boots. The dessert list is a smorgasbord of sweet sips including cult favourites like Clearview Sea Red, Chambers muscat, Wet Jacket's Sticky Savy and saucy sauternes up the wahzoo. The gin, vodka, rum and tequila lists are expansive and exotic, but the scotch is ordered carefully into single, Highland, Island, Speyside and Islay then reaches out to whiskeys blended, rye and Irish, bourbon and Tennessee styles and no fewer than eight from Japan alone. The solid selection of serious quality Cognac, Armagnac and liqueurs from the four corners will warm the cockles into the wee small hours.
— Yvonne Lorkin
Spoilt for choice....
If you're looking to replace plush with a bit of old school nostalgia then head to Westhaven Marina's Swashbucklers. It's the place where time (and prices) stand still and is popular with the young and the old. Famous for fish and chips on the outdoor deck, it's not just a place for summer.
A reincarnated community hall with hummus at its heart will wow anyone after a Middle Eastern feast. East St. Hall was once a community hall for the Samoan Church on the corner and the new tenants appear committed to keeping aiga and aroha at the heart of this incarnation. Falafels and carrots are a must get here. In fact, the carrots at East St. are, definitively, the best carrots in Auckland.
Almost a decade after the first Mexico opened in Britomart, the popular restaurant proves why it's an oldie but a goodie. The menu features margaritas, wine-soaked sangrias and tequila tasting flights. With succulent, spicy-but-not-too-spicy fried chicken, tacos and quesadillas to soak the alcohol up. After all these years Mexico still manages to feel like somewhere you could bring almost anyone, while still being somewhere you might want to bring almost anyone.
Plant-based eating is not the ground-breaking deal it used to be and Ponsonby Rd's vegan restaurant Khu Khu proves this by favouring fake meat over no meat. It would be indisputably better for the planet if we all ate a little less meat. Yep, I know there are disputers and you should take them to Khu Khu, where I swear they won't even notice they're eating slaughter-free spring rolls.