Address: Level 1, Viaduct Harbour
Phone: (09) 307 0072
There's something about the term "fine dining" that slightly sets the teeth on edge. It has a self-satisfied, stuffy air of pretension and snobbery.
But Kermadec can, I suppose, be excused for using the description as it has to distinguish its restaurant from the bustling brasserie. And if you interpret the term as describing a style of food beyond the imagination and capabilities of the average eating place, delivered with impeccable service in elegant surroundings then I guess it is justified.
The dishes here were almost universally creative, delivering novel tastes and harmonies of freshness and subtlety with rarely a wrong note.
The tone was set with the selection of warm breads and an amuse-gueule of cauliflower jelly with a wild mushroom cream, complementing each other in small explosions of flavour. It set up a hard act to follow but our substantial courses were equally compelling.
Kermadec describes itself as an ocean restaurant and if you don't like seafood you have fairly restricted options - although I did flirt with the quail entree and slow-cooked lamb shoulder main. But having complained that Auckland is, for a coastal city, surprisingly undersupplied with specialist seafood eating places, we felt obliged to stay with the marine varieties.
I began with scampi, the specimen of which arrived with melting potato gnocchi, tiny pieces of rabbit, shaved chestnuts and other bits and pieces, the whole then dressed with a rabbit consomme. It sounds terrific and it was, as was our other first course of delicious Chatham Island crab with a little red pepper, fennel, lemon paste and crab jelly.
For my main I went for a fish which doesn't feature too often here, hake. It appeared as what the menu called the day's "idea of the moment" fish. It came roasted and much as I like my fish slightly undercooked I first thought they had taken that approach a little too far. I was wrong. It flaked perfectly, preserving the wonderfully fishy flavour hake offers, rather than the meatier tone of some large fish. It came with fennel, creamed potato and touches of lettuce and was memorable for all the right reasons - which was more than can be said of the last time I had hake in a city in which it is a regional speciality.
My wife has a fondness for John Dory and hers was again expertly cooked and the touches of pancetta, quail eggs, mushroom and compacted pears set it off beautifully.
The only disappointment was that I had been unfairly tempted by a side dish described as Pont Neuf potatoes, thrice cooked in duck fat, a prescription that offered such an insult to the healthy eating strictures that it was impossible to resist. They were not, despite the waiting staff's warm recommendation, the best chips I've ever had.
Culinary art of a high order featured on the shortish dessert menu.
The feijoa is one of our humbler fruits, rarely bought and usually coming from a friend with a tree that over-provides its owners, but here it arrived as an ice shell, looking like a small cannon ball, encasing a caramel-like interior with ginger and what appeared to be dried apple - simply spectacular. If you are going to be decadent and indulge in sinful chocolate it has to be worth it and our other dessert, a concoction of valrhona chocolate enclosing a liquid orange centre certainly delivered.
The Viaduct Harbour made an appealing backdrop as we savoured these delights in one of the more spacious and comfortable of Auckland's venues and it did, indeed, make for fine dining.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $283 for two entrees, two mains with one side dish, two desserts and five glasses of wine.
Wine list: An excellent list. Our Henri Bourgeois sancerre made an interesting contrast to the same outfit's New Zealand Clos Henri sauvignon blanc and I enjoyed both it and the Pegasus Bay Waipara riesling. The good dessert list included my pleasing Domaine de Beaumalric Beaumes de Venise.
Verdict: Imaginative and creative food without being too clever. Soothing service and comfort. Kermadec keeps the high standards with which it was launched.