Phone: (09) 3636278
Rating out of 10: Food: 9, Service: 9, Value: 7, Ambience: 8
When you realise that your recollection of memorable sporting occasions is dominated by the catering it is time to admit the depth of your food obsession. How tragic is it that when I recall my sole visit to the great Melbourne Cricket Ground my first thought is of the vileness of the pies?
Conversely, my enthusiasm to repeat my first visit to the summer Auckland tennis event last year had less to do with watching world-ranked players and more to do with memories of slipping out on several occasions for the Masu gyoza offerings in the hospitality area now that the organisers have a catering deal with SkyCity.
As this year's tennis tournament rolled around it prompted the thought of paying a return visit to Masu itself to see if the full range of their food still offered the quality of the gyoza. It does.
When we first visited Masu for the purposes of this column in 2013, it had set itself high standards and these haven't slipped. As we have remarked in the past few years, Auckland is now blessed with an ever-growing list of top-drawer eating establishments and Masu is up there with the best.
The approach is simple, based on the Japanese robata style of cooking over an open charcoal grill with additional options, but this foundation spins into a daunting range of variations. The full benefit would come in a large party allowing much tasting with a couple of diners requiring greed of the Gordon Gekko prescription to do the menu justice.
But we did our best. The edamame beans we munched while contemplating the menu were large and juicy and served piping hot. Obviously we ordered the pork and kimchi gyoza and they were terrific, bursting with flavour. The soft-shelled crab was crisped, with the strong flavour of sesame complementing but not obliterating the seafood.
From the maki roll selection we chose the teriyaki eel version with sansho spice, which was made visually appealing by the inclusion of Japanese omelette and cucumber. At $16.90 it is considerably more expensive than your neighbourhood sushi bar and the food here isn't cheap. But it is quality.
As an easily distracted domestic cook I am used to my grilled asparagus being charred to ruin or removed from the heat in panic, leaving it rigidly raw. Here it was perfect, resistant to the bite but actually cooked and with the grilled flavour enhanced by a little miso dressing.
The selection of the more substantial courses posed more difficulty. I vividly remembered the excellence of the black cod and the miso hotpot with clams, baby squid and scampi was hard to resist. But we did not regret the eventual decision in favour of the snapper, grilled to just the right degree and with a jalapeno dressing that delivered a lingering kick that didn't overpower the fish. The succulent lamb cutlets also had a hot edge with the pungent Korean gochujang condiment. Offsetting the spice was our selection of sweet pickles which made even the daikon, which I normally fervently loathe, palatable.
We didn't really have room for dessert but had some anyway. The chocolate cremeux was subtle, with a little sake icecream and a citrus note with raspberry yuzu, and the green tea mousse was very pretty and packed with that distinctive green tea flavour - if with a less creamy texture than I had expected.
The excellence of the food was matched by the smooth service, delivered with just the right amount of interaction. A change of mind on our order halfway through the meal and a wine list choice without the benefit of the list on hand were handled without a hint of difficulty and it was a busy, busy night. But I suspect this is usually the case here. The beautifully presented food and the lively atmosphere augmented by the pleasure of watching the kitchen staff in slickly professional action continue to make Masu a foodie's delight.