Address: SkyCity Grand Hotel, Federal Street
Phone: (09) 363 7030
One day, I hope, Peter Gordon will cook my dinner. It hasn't happened yet. In two visits to Dine (which is technically dine by Peter Gordon), I've eaten food made - doubtless to his precise specifications - by his acolytes, but never by the man himself.
I even chased him to London (well, not really; I was there anyway) when I went to have the 29 Sunday roast at Providores, on the Marylebone High St, but it turned out he was in New Zealand at the time.
Gordon wasn't in the kitchen when the Professor and I sat down at Dine last week, either. He puts in an appearance four times a year "to introduce seasonal menu changes with the team", his website says, and the waitress told me he was expected in town the very next evening.
Call me old-fashioned, but I don't buy this signature restaurant carry-on.
As I've written before, I think a chef is a person who cooks your meal; an absentee "executive chef" is what I call a recipe.
I can't help wondering what "by Peter Gordon" means when Peter Gordon isn't there. Lin Saunders, who wrote music reviews for the Herald for half a century, used to say he'd been taught piano "by Beethoven" because he'd learnt from a man who'd learnt from a man &c. But he did have a twinkle in his eye at the time.
Maybe the people actually in the kitchen were channelling Gordon, or maybe they were just bloody good at what they do. Either way, to judge by the degustation, the place is in good heart as it reaches school age.
A degustation is a menu of many courses - in Dine's case five, with a palate-cleansing sorbet - in which the chef gets to strut his stuff, and the restaurant has assembled some of the classics of the first five years.
Gordon calls what he does fusion cuisine, though the small essay on his website about it seems a statement of the blindingly obvious and rather undermines the case for its originality since he points out that it's so ancient (Italians using corn, a New World crop, to make polenta; Thai dishes flavoured with coriander, a Mediterranean herb).
Maybe what he and his surrogates do is just inspired cooking, full of striking juxtapositions: the scallops - the big, fat northern hemisphere ones - come with sweet chilli and paper-thin crisps of plantain; fried haloumi is in a spinach salad with water chestnuts,
pecans and dill, a wonderful adventure of texture and taste; the hapuku has a crab-flavoured crust on top but sits on a bed of coconut and kumara that recalls a Malaysian laksa.
Other touches are almost transgressive. Braising wagyu beef for five hours? The very thought is outrageous. But the result is perhaps the single most sublime piece of meat I've ever eaten.
The finale is one of Gordon's legendary creations, I'm told: coconut tapioca with an avocado sorbet. Any chef who can redeem boarding school memories of that tapioca deserves to take a bow. Let's hope Gordon - or whoever's cooking this stuff - sticks around another five years.
Dine marks its fifth birthday this month. The waitress didn't know exactly on what day, but asked and it turned out that it was the very night we were there. What a shame that Peter missed the party.
Vegetarians: Two entrees, one main
Watch out for: Peter Gordon
Bottom line: Going strong
$333 for two
The degustation menu for two: $185/$115 with/without wine.
Water, coffee, wine (one glass): $24.50.
A la carte entrees: $23-$28; mains $33-$42; desserts $17.