Herald rating: * * *
Address:7 Sale St Freemans Bay
Phone: (09) 307 8148
Open: 7 days
Cuisine: Pub grub
From the menu: Waikanae crab, pork, black bean risotto with smoked eel beignets $16; Vanilla duck leg confit, orange and kumara puree, caramelised shallots, steamed bok choy, pomegranate essence, port jus $28; Date and coconut tart, ginger cream anglaise $14
Vegetarian: Dishes available
Wine: Try the local beers
Big Man, Luke Dallow. Big ideas. Big ... without being unnecessarily anatomical, let's say you'd have to be a brave man to open the inner-city's largest meeting and eating and drinking and chatting and gigging venture when the economy is making a mad dash for the nearest long-drop.
His longshots have paid off, though. Ten or 12 years ago, who'd have thought you could make dough in an upmarket pizza parlour in Ponsonby? That was Salsa. Or pull them into a neighbourhood pub in wilfully bohemian Grey Lynn? Malt. A flash seafood deli in West Lynn? Salt. A 30s-decor tapas bar in genteel Westmere? Garnet Bar & Kitchen. Or a neighbourhood pub on ferociously fashionable Ponsonby Rd? Chapel.
He still has Chapel and has poured his energy into Sale St Brewery, stitched together from the remnants of a 1921 drapery warehouse that became the capital of the Glengarry Hancocks' liquor empire in the 90s.
It is vast. It has a terrace (with pool) that's about the size of one average wine-bar. The main bar is almost as big as the former Soviet Union, then there's the eatery (partitions can be removed to make a live-music arena) and several lounges.
And - on bars, on ceilings, in corners, remarkable art from life-size bronze sculpture to witty chandeliers and paintings that beg a second or third look.
The council paperwork says it can hold 800 though they closed the doors at 700 on its first Thursday because staff and management feel they can't keep up standards of service.
Everything is big about Sale St: 52 beer taps serving 13 different types of beer, 60 by-the-glass wines, a micro-brewery and coffee roaster. In a partnership with DB, the company's master brewer offers three beers apparently made on site but in limited quantities: sadly they were out of the signature Ponsonby Gold lager when Jude and I turned up. Settled for Celebration, a slightly sour pale ale, with my seared kangaroo and Asian-influenced salad entrée. It worked.
The joint-venture team got the big-bar concept from Christchurch, Perth, Dublin and Vegas. I'm not sure that it's a new idea, rather an old one recycled. The memory is admittedly hazy but I recall something similar in most Kiwi towns in the 80s.
Since it says Eating Out at the top of the page, I suppose we better had. There's a bar menu with the predictable burgers, pizzas, a few tapas and yakitori but that's for the liquid side of the partition; with about 20 others (on a Monday night? A week after opening? Bet there's quite a few Ponsonby long-timers who'd kill for those numbers), we're essaying the full menu.
Which will be a rather short essay, for the food (or the kitchen) needs a bit of work, pretty quickly. My warm salad and Jude's seared scallops with pasta and white-wine broth were tasty, nothing more.
"Rack of Lamb, lemon and basil crusted cassava cake, with olive & palm sugar tapenade & truffle cream" sounds complicated and it was. The lamb, alleged to be medium, was exuberantly rare. The cassava was stone-cold and stodgy against warmed jus and a strident tapenade.
Someone needs to calm things down, maybe recast the menu into something a little more retro, to go with the ambience. Like Jude's entirely adequate eye-fillet, simply marinated in garlic and rosemary, with mash, spinach.
You know what? This place will go off like a hand-grenade in a junket factory.
It is part of the week-night, weekend, hot-date, chill-out life that is Freemans Bay or Victoria Park or whatever it's called - and it's been open less than a fortnight. The only question is: what's Luke Dallow's next big thing?