250 Queen St (Queen's Rise)
Ph: (09) 390 0222
We thought: 11 - Disappointing
We spent: $153 for two.
What to say about a place so tediously average I had to re-check my diary to even remember what it was called?
Grace Dining is the gastronomic equivalent of phoning the IRD. You can't go anywhere, you can't do anything, there is a strong possibility you will never be able to listen to anything by Bic Runga ever again. You are, simply, existing.
It has been a week since we were the only people in this Queen's Rise restaurant and I still feel sad. I could (and will) tell you about the worst bits. The real shame is that it could have been so much better.
In the country's capital city of FOMO, if you build it, they will come - the trick is getting them to come back. At Queen's Rise, this is easy. Opened in June, this very beautiful multi-restaurant space sits behind a heritage facade in downtown Auckland. Variously described as a dining precinct and a laneway-style food court, it features more than 10 standalone eating options with one shared (and absolutely gorgeous) bathroom.
I'd previously lunched at Lowbrow. If you haven't been there yet, it's chicken wings but they're organic, pasta but it's handmade, a restaurant in a food court but everything is delicious.
When we stepped off the escalator Lowbrow was humming. Keep walking and you'll find Grace. It's round the back and off the beaten path, but the menu read well and the space was light and welcoming.
I asked the waitperson about the market fish. He, in turn, asked the kitchen (tarakihi, with every syllable properly and applaudably pronounced). Then I asked about the short rib pot pie and the waitperson said he'd had it yesterday and it was great: "The lamb - or was it beef - was so tender."
The mains are called "principles" which makes them sound very important or, at least, like the kind of dish that would want you to know if it was cow or sheep. Grace does bistro-style food - think lamb cutlets, a $24 cheese and beef burger you can push up to $30 if you add bacon, and a rump steak with broccolini and onion rings.
That steak was $36. A medium rare request had only made it to one end of the cut; I love a blue steak, but there was just too much chew in the raw bits and an estimated $9 worth of meat went back to the kitchen. The onion rings? Battered magnificence.
I am grateful to my date for sharing those onion rings. The situation on my side of the table was grim. My chicken was like that time you left home and thought the route to a delicious Sunday roast would be four packets of dried mixed herbs from the supermarket. Your flatmates ate it because they were sick of toast. Later you read a recipe book and discovered the amazingly nuanced power of lemon and garlic. You vowed to never disrespect another chicken.
I eat out at least once a week. Over the years, my attitude to mediocre food has changed. Once, I might have gone for a lame laugh. The gravy was as bland as a Starbucks latte! The stuffing was as absent as my ability to write a good joke! But (raw rump aside) this food was not so bad I couldn't eat it. It was, simply, sad. It wasted my time and the kitchen's time and it definitely didn't honour the produce.
We had, at the start of the evening, truly enjoyed a Clevedon buffalo mozzarella starter with a multiplicity of roasted, semi-dried and fresh tomatoes ($22). When a friend walked past the window and popped in to say hi, the waitperson brought water us having to ask. Potato crisps with a roasted onion dip ($8) didn't work for me - too grainy - but I loved the idea. They were all out of roast baby leeks with lemon buttermilk and mustard cream ($10). We asked for a side of skinny fries. They were fine, but at this point there was no saving Grace.