Address: 53 Victoria St, Hamilton
Phone: (07) 839 4444
Rating out of 10: Food: 8, Service: 7, Value: 7, Ambience: 8

I f you are an ambitious chef, at what stage do you decide "enough is enough" when you are creating a new dish? Having judged that the companions to go with the cervena are a smoked potato and black pepper gnocchi with caraway-roasted Spanish onion and baby beet with horseradish and redcurrant jus, it takes a certain approach to imagine "what it now needs is a bit of black fig vincotto".

This thought crossed my mind at the Victoria Street Bistro - not, oddly enough when tasting the cervena, of which more later, but on wondering whether my dessert, an excellent, fresh-tasting plum and strawberry tarte tatin with coconut flakes, vanilla bean and white balsamic caramel, was actually enhanced by the black doris icecream.

Even allowing for my suspicion that there's a tendency to gild the lily about some of the dishes, there was plenty of evidence as to why this establishment has impressed reviewers, garnered a swag of awards and was doing good solid business on a midweek evening.

We had started in an outside booth, very comfortable and well-placed to watch the passing parade but a little isolated from the livelier scene within. Our request to change tables was accommodated without fuss. The interior has a stylishly simple dark decor and the noise level was a pleasant buzz, allowing easy conversation.


The menu depends pretty heavily on meat and a vegetarian might be less than impressed by the choice if he or she didn't fancy the intriguing-sounding "risotto of tender ancient grains".

Not suffering from this limitation, I launched into the veal sweetbreads for my first course. They were outstanding, tender and glazed with soy, honey and served with seared scallops and a bed of pea puree.

Our other first course was later judged by its recipient as her best dish of the night. This was a twist on the peking duck formula, with tasty shredded duck artfully arranged in what might once have been termed a stack with wonton and a mango salad with coriander, green onion and hoisin and ginger sauce. The sweetness with hints of spice matched the meat perfectly.

My cervena was expertly cooked, rare and tender, if slightly lacking that gamey edge of wild venison. The accompaniments, many and varied, worked well. Our other main was the fish of the day, competently cooked bluenose with an assembly that included mussels, zucchini, eggplant, miso and asparagus tempura, the crispness of which wasn't assisted by being layered underneath the fish.

The servings are pretty generous in contrast with some Auckland establishments which are taking the "small" in the small-plate style to extremes, and we were already well fed.

But the desserts were tempting and I really enjoyed the tarte tatin. Our other dessert was the mango sorbet with poached rhubarb and saffron-scented citrus curd and, again, one wondered if the slightly sticky meringue sticks were doing much for the whole.

Without being polished the service was attentive and helpful. A query to a waitress about a particular wine from a list which, like the restaurant itself is solid if not totally exciting, was referred to someone who had greater knowledge and a useful substitution made.

We left feeling we had enjoyed a pleasant enough evening in an establishment that knows what it is doing to keep its customers content and which deserves its sound reputation.

Our meal: $201 for two starters, two mains, two desserts and five glasses of wine.

Wine list: A list dominated by mainstream New Zealand wines, offering an adequate range by the glass.

Verdict: Good food with imagination, well presented in a comfortable well-established manner. The customers on our visit displayed that it was equally suited for couples or the larger party.