Restaurant reviewer Kim Knight fails to get onboard at Platform 8.
26 Te Taou Cres
Ph: (09) 972 1848
WE SPENT: $155 for two.
WE THOUGHT: 10 - Disappointing
It seemed appropriate to make a reservation. The restaurant, after all, used to be a train station.
Sarah wore a black velvet coat and a black cloche hat. She looked like a glamorous lady novelist who might retire to the smoking car for a small sherry before plotting the demise of an unscrupulous bounder.
She would have had time for several sherries. She would have been in Taumarunui before the first course arrived - and also the second course, because all our courses arrived at once.
"There appears to have been some miscommunication in the kitchen," said the waitperson. Quite. Someone had failed to communicate to the kitchen that if you want your customers to trust a bowl of mussels, you should not serve those mussels cold (the bowl, it must be said, was very hot).
I don't know what went wrong. Halfway to Taumarunui and we were still the only people in the restaurant. Our reservation had been entirely unnecessary though Platform 8 was apparently expecting 150 people the night after our visit.
I hope they had a spectacular time in what is, surely, the most spectacular party space in the city. Heritage New Zealand describes the former Auckland Railway Station as "one of the most self-consciously monumental public buildings erected in early 20th-century New Zealand". The architects were Gummer and Ford, the design style was Beaux-Arts, characterised by symmetry, grandiosity and formality.
The metal roof was apparently imported from Germany - its genealogy downplayed when World War II erupted. It's impossible not to be wowed by that high and ornate ceiling, the marble pillars and the terazzo floor that history-makers trod when trains were how we got places. Consider today's departure halls (McDonald's and a full body scan) and lament the lost glory of travel.
Platform 8 is a room within this room. A kind of dark wood pergola obscures the magnificence of the surrounding space. Faux leadlight fixtures are pretty but fake greenery is cheap and disappointing. Sometimes, good food elevates a bad space. At this restaurant, the opposite is true. I desperately wanted to love my dinner but the kitchen did its darndest to dissuade me.
Smoked lamb croquettes with minted pea pesto was a clever take on ye olde English roast, but the lamb was stringy and (given the mashed spud instead of bechamel in the croquette) the peas could have been creamier.
The menu said the mussels were "crayfish bisque grilled", so I imagined them on the half shell. They looked, in fact, "just steamed" but, as mentioned, were just cold. They came with ciabatta. Allegedly. I'm happy to be corrected but the bread looked (and tasted) like one of those par-baked supermarket buffet rolls.
Our compressed pear salad ($19) was visually stunning (prettier, even, than the one prepared later for photographing). I really liked the contrast between bitter grilled witloof and candied walnut but the pear had, perhaps, been too firm to begin with. All I could really taste was cinnamon. The texture was akin to under-boiled potato.
We shared half a chook, brined and finished on the grill. It was as juicy as we'd hoped, though might have been crispier, given the menu description. It came with cornbread. I don't even know where to start. Imagine 3-day-old gingerbread but made with chilli - and . . . honestly, I ate more of this than I wanted to, in the way that you might keep putting your tongue on an electric fence just to figure out what the hell is going on here. I actually think some people will probably love this. I was not one of them.
Canvas restaurant scores reflect more than just the food. We notice stuff like nicely weighted cutlery and soundtracks that suit the situation. I picked up a fork. "They're quite short," I yelled to Sarah. "I've got small hands," she said. And then: "Jesus. Did these come from Hobbiton?"
When the waitperson carefully placed dessert menus directly on top of the large and obvious pool of vaguely crayfish-scented mussel juice that had slopped on to the table (possibly when she removed the barely touched dish) I didn't know where to look. That chicken, by the way, was crammed into a very hot bowl - so was the accompanying salad.
Platform 8 is spitting distance to Spark Arena. We didn't have the onion rings ($9) or fries ($9) or buffalo wings ($21) so I can't comment on their suitability for a pre-show drink and bar snack. The problem is, its ambitions seem greater than this. A lamb shank, for example, is served with "celeriac three ways". A quesadilla comes with a "chive mascarpone". The dessert doughnuts ($10) are "picarones" - kūmara and pumpkin Peruvian-style doughnuts with fresh lemon curd and passionfruit. The implication is that the food will match the surroundings. That this grand design will be reflected on the plate. We had the doughnuts. They tasted like doughnuts.