Address: SkyCity Grand Hotel, Federal Street
Phone: (09) 363 7030

We didn't dine with Peter Gordon, of course. Few are granted that privilege. But we did understand the principle behind the restaurant's name - the eponymous Mr Gordon whizzes out to New Zealand from London or wherever a few times a year, casts an eye over the kitchen and menu, tweaks things, flicks a tea towel and hurtles off again.

We were more than happy to take advantage of his reputation and ideas. The entrance to the restaurant, off the foyer of the Grand Hotel, is restrained and elegant. We were ushered to our table at the end of the capacious dining room, from which we could enjoy the vista of the almost empty room.

We had been advised to make an early booking as a large party was expected a little later. Fair enough, but the party, when it arrived, wasn't that large (although it did contain some sporting luminaries) and I'm sure the excellent wait staff could have coped. The room certainly could have.

Our complimentary amuse- gueules, a genteel muddle of tiny bits of deep-fried tuna, kumara puree and cucumber in lemon mayonnaise, was a pretty fair indication of what was to come. Excellence, mostly.

My haloumi salad, a squeaky "Zany Zeus" with spinach, orange segments and tomato, contained water chestnuts and chopped pecans to provide texture, crunch and interest, and it succeeded.

Gail and Bill both ordered Nelson scallops. And while they were delighted with the chorizo caramel morsels and black bean and coconut puree, they felt that perhaps some of the scallops had escaped during plating, so scarce were they.

But if ever you want to see a man like Steve truly happy without having to mention his beloved Corvette, give him beer-battered Bluff oysters with wasabi and horseradish. Battered oysters suggest the local takeaway, but these were nowhere near that. They were exceptional, and Steve's smile was beatific.

Gail had decided on two starters, so she would have room for dessert. Her second choice was a crayfish and coconut laksa, with crab, shallots and coriander. She seemed to enjoy it, to the point where she had to be physically restrained from licking the bowl.

Bill and Steve were equally pleased with their choices - fillet of beef, for Bill, with potato and parmesan gratin, brussels sprouts (serve him right) and plenty of mushrooms. Ordered rare and served rare. It sounds simple, but in many cases it seems to be extraordinarily difficult to achieve. Not here.

Steve's farmed venison was rare too, and came with cavolo nero, potato and pear chutney. More bliss. My seafood plate was a mix of snapper, tuna, kahawai, hapuku and scallops, each distinct and recognisable, tender and delicious. The side dish of baby carrots was honey-glazed but also gingered and sprinkled with toasted macadamias.

More ginger was to be found in Gail's white chocolate bavarois, with tamarillo (a much under-utilised fruit) and lemon zest to temper the sweetness. The cheese board was a much more delicate affair than that usually found. Rather than great lumps of cheddar and half a camembert, there were small portions of soft goat's milk cheese, a blue and a cheddar, with an excellent whisky and walnut chutney and a variety of crackers and bread, including oatcakes and bran biscuits.

We finished with Calvados and tawny port, satisfied and impressed.

And then we saw the bill.

Rating out of 10
Food: 9
Service: 9
Value: 7
Ambience: 8

Our meal: $472 for five starters, three mains, one dessert, biscuits, cheese, two bottles of wine, three liqueurs.

Wine list: An excellent and extensive list. My new favourite, Clos Marguerite sauvignon blanc, was there with brother Henri, and the Yering Station shiraz viognier was acclaimed by its imbibers, one of whom was disappointed not to find a beer list. He could, of course, have asked for one.

Verdict: Assured service, imaginative and well-balanced food and comfortable surroundings make this a very good restaurant. Definitely one to bear in mind when the time comes to celebrate recession recovery.