The General
33 Shortland St, Auckland
Ph: (09) 309 8191
WE THOUGHT: 12 - Disappointing
WE SPENT: $254 for three.

Time moves so slowly when you're waiting for a fish.

The steak was there. So was the halloumi. The ragged vegetables on the long platter looked like they'd trekked five days to get to the table but they, too, were in attendance.

"Eat," urged Caro. "Your food will get cold."


I think that was inevitable given the plates did not appear to have been heated in the first place. The General touts a "gastronomic experience" for "lovers of contemporary restaurant culture". Words are cheap and my sirloin steak ($36) was not. Also, it was missing a promised pastry component and came with a sticky onion-mushroom-coffee sauce that was literally sticky. I'm all for fresh herbs, but denuded thyme stalks are a choking hazard.

I so wanted to love this restaurant. The building is truly stunning and the waitpeople so sweet that just writing this feels like kicking puppies. That said, there were only two other occupied tables and I should not have had to leave my own in search of wine.

We ordered sourdough and whipped brown butter ($3 apiece) and it arrived with our entrees. About that butter. Two icecream scoops of the stuff; more butter, really, than my house might use in a week of breakfasts. It tasted sublime. Toasty, caramelly, nutty. Only a fool would fail to ask for a doggy bag. Our first waitperson demurred - no takeaway containers. "Tinfoil?" suggested Caro. When that too was ignored, she simply waited and wore down the next waitperson. Dear Reader, for the rest of the week my Vogel's dripped caramelly, nutty perseverance.

We ordered three of the four entrees, the best of which was a tuna tartare ($16) served on a round of faux marble perfectly in keeping with the restaurant's elegant white walls, high ceilings and plinky piano ambience. It is stately and grand. A dining room to bring your grandparents to when you want to secure the trust fund before you fly to Ubud and perfect your warrior pose.

Marble marvellousness at The General. Photo / Getty Images.
Marble marvellousness at The General. Photo / Getty Images.

My companions who have lived in Auckland forever tell me it was a lot of fun when this place was called Wine Chambers. Wheelers, dealers and a lot of champagne. When pressed, they can mostly only remember the wine. I searched online and the last menu I could find included "gnocci, Whittacker chocolate and arancicni balls". At least The General has been spell-checked.

More food? A mushroom risotto ($15) was seriously aided and abetted with parmesan. Great flavours, but borderline gritty to the bite. Pork shoulder ($15) had been billed as "crispy" and I expected the crunch to be hot and attached to the meat. Instead, it was cold and puffy - a piggy pumice cast upon a chilli-spiked slaw.

It was too long between drinks and then too long again for the ashed hāpuku with pea crush and potatoes ($30). The delay allowed Sarah time to question her life choices. She'd selected the halloumi with root vegetables ($24) and no amount of fried cheese could hide the worst pumpkin hummus I've ever tasted. It looked like watery scrambled eggs and the only clue to its actual origin was a scattering of rock-hard chickpeas. I think, perhaps, it has been a difficult year for pumpkins - I have a wedge of pale insipidity sitting in my fridge at home (and now I know that turning it into hummus will not improve its flavour).

Anyway, the fish finally arrived and I wondered if it was last because it was so small and maybe hard to find? At least it was moist (presumably because it had been in the pan only seconds earlier), though it was also in dire need of salt.

Everything was beautifully plated. My steak was, actually, really good. But overall, there were too many flavour flaws and the kitchen's timing was terrible. I could hardly bear to order dessert. Chocolate fondant ($16) was rich, dark and mostly cake. The coconut sorbet ($16) was cool and light but came with "pepper drops" that were, mostly, a crime against pudding. The General's menu is small and, according to its website, will change regularly. This may be its saving grace.