Ladies (and gents) who lunch (and dinner) should head to Commercial Bay, says restaurant reviewer Kim Knight.
A good mall knows what you want to buy before you do.
It presents as a safe, shiny space selling socks and birthday cards. At some point, you remember you need a new dish rack and, shortly, you will be convinced that having your shoulders massaged in public is not the most embarrassing way to spend a Saturday.
This is the magic of retail. Possibility, aspiration and the heart-zing of a teal blue cushion that will complete your lounge (though probably not your life).
Auckland's newest "mall" is being promoted as a "district" - shops, food and office space for 10,000 workers. Commercial Bay, at the bottom of Queen St, is a beautiful behemoth. Ignore the ongoing disaster of downtown road works and behold this phoenix risen from the ashes of lockdowns and construction delays. With more than 120 places to eat and shop, it is a monument to our insatiable desire for things; a place where a smart retailer can simultaneously flog chargrilled chicken and camel-coloured chinos.
On paper, it looks faintly ridiculous, but "the concept goes beyond experimental retail", proclaims Rodd & Gunn chief executive Mike Beagley. "It celebrates the New Zealand lifestyle that is ingrained in our brand DNA."
He's talking about The Lodge Bar and Dining, the restaurant with the food menu by Matt Lambert (The Musket Room) and the wine menu by Cameron Douglas (Master Sommelier). But I'm still stuck on its association with Rodd & Gunn. How does a fashion label worn by environmental scientists and the engineering student offspring of high-country farmers pivot to kale?
There is, thankfully, a dividing wall between the chinos and the chicken. The latter was organic, deboned and delicious, if a tiny bit chewy ($34). It reminded me of a plump schnitzel with crispy skin instead of crumbs; adorned with nothing but perfect little pops of fried capers and a squeeze of grilled lemon. You'll need veges on the side but not the $12 creamed spinach, because it tastes like boarding school (truly, the oddest I've eaten - not so much creamed as coated in a gluey, unappealing roux).
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Greg had the lamb shoulder rigatoni ($32 for a main size) and, while the pasta was narrower and more elegant than your average supermarket tube, the chunks of shredded meat were appropriately sized for those archetypal Rodd & Gunn-clad lads raised on Sunday roasts and footy club pies.
The Lodge actually makes a $4 meat pie croquette. Its interior is a grab bag of rabbit-hare-venison and no discernible binder, which sounds great but I wouldn't have minded a bit of bechamel to soften things up. Also, they're quite small. Smaller, I reckon, than a lamb's testicle. This probably won't be everyone's obvious point of reference but is the sort of thing you should know if you're going to wear an Inchbonnie zip-neck jumper and a Longburn straight-fit jean with any kind of authority.
I'm stereotyping. The vibe is way more Scandi power lunch than Speights with the boys. A pitched roof, blonde timber floor, brass detailing and proper crockery from Steiner Ceramics. I nestled into a chair draped with a snowy-white sheepskin; Sarah reported the banquette seating some of the most comfortable she'd encountered. The overall effect is casually moneyed - those beautifully balanced wine glasses do not come from your average mall.
This attention to detail matters. It whispers, seductively, "buy an oyster" - and, oh look, your place has already been set with a teeny tiny fork. Mine was slicked with smoked bone marrow, an unusual oily-briny, surf-and-turf ($5). Sarah said hers (deep-fried with curry mayo) was fabulous and I was jealous.
Her grouper ($38) was stunning. Cooked to a delectable, barely detectable blush pink at the centre, it had been removed from the pan at precisely the right moment. A kingfish entree ($18), with whole pieces of roasted apple and slivers of deliciously dry and salty bacon, had received similarly expert treatment - just-seared on the edges and plated like a picture.
The Lodge absolutely nails its customer service. Our waitperson was the right mix of charm and cheek and I could have hugged her when she said, without prompting, that she'd just fetch some serving spoons. She attempted to take responsibility for a wine muddle-up that was entirely my fault and the crusty sourdough was free. I could have sat there all afternoon, cosy in my sheepskin, supping oysters and sipping cocktails. Top of my list? A $21 mix of bourbon, rum, cacao and bitters, called "Mayor for a Month". Oh, the roadworks I'd finish.
The Lodge Bar and Dining (Rodd & Gunn), Commercial Bay, 7 Queen St, ph (09) 884 4200. We spent: $201 for three.