Address: St Patricks Square, Auckland CBD
Phone: (09) 368 4129

The Professor is a reliably uncomplaining dining companion. If I say she can't have the mozzarella di bufala and the salmon, she can cut up rough, but mostly she takes what she's given. Sometimes, though, she needs a nice night out for a change.

Fortunately, I know the way to a woman's heart. It's up the steps from St Patrick's Square and into the long, dark room that has been, for more than 10 years now, one of the city's most dependable and most outstanding eateries.

I was about to use the phrase "fine dining", but that conjures up stuffy waiters who roll their eyes if you ask the meaning of "chiffonade" or "macedoine" or sigh if you say the tap water will be fine.

You don't get that at The Grove. The service is calm but snappy and superbly well-informed but you don't feel like they're doing you a favour letting you eat there.

Mango lasagne at The Grove. Photo / Jason Oxenham.
Mango lasagne at The Grove. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

The food makes sense, too, by which I mean you recognise the ingredients, and the dishes, for all that their inventiveness piques the curiosity, have a coherence and intelligibility that makes you feel right at home.

I know what you're thinking. Sounds pricey. A bloke wrote after I had reported enthusiastically on a meal at The Grove asking why I reviewed places that no one could afford to go to. I suggested his money would be better spent passing up $120 disappointments for three weeks and splashing out here.

Well, now he has no excuse. On what they're calling No-Menu Mondays you get to enjoy five courses of chef Ben Bayly's work for $65 a head.

There is a menu, of course, only you don't get to see it. You tell them if there's anything you can't or won't eat and you take what you're given. ("So," said the Professor, a tad ungraciously I thought, "it's not really a change for me, is it?").

As in Sid Sahrawat's Tuesday Test Kitchen at Sidart, many of the dishes are freshly minted, though if something doesn't work as Bayly hoped, you probably won't notice.

The fantastic house-baked sourdough (with a ring of porcini butter filled with burrata) doesn't even count as a course, though it deserves to. We exulted in tuna tartare (big, meaty cubes, not paper-thin slices) with sliced and powdered coconut; a courgette flower stuffed with a crayfish and crab mousse; lamb loin in a jus that sang of a Paris bistro; and a dessert that included chocolate, berries and porcini cream. A trio of artisan cheeses made a big impression.

To say the food was superb is to understate matters, but it was the little grace notes - a crisp-fried shiso leaf or flecks of a succulent samphire - that made it a meal to remember.

And my parsimonious correspondent should note: it costs as much as three burgers at Cobb & Co. In terms of quality per dollar, it is probably the best deal in town.


Chef's menu (Mondays only) Five courses $65.
Verdict: One of the city's best at a very good price.