The best lamb in the city atones for the most expensive carrots, writes Canvas restaurant reviewer Kim Knight.
One Tree Grill
9 Pah Rd, Epsom
Ph: (09) 909 7215
WE SPENT: $268 for two
WE THOUGHT: 17 - Great
A couple of Friday nights ago, comedian Guy Williams interviewed a man about a Mongrel Mob initiative to encourage healthy eating.
One of the problems, said the interviewee, was that a cheeseburger was always going to be 95c while a carrot was $2.50.
Williams was incredulous. "Where you buying your carrots from, man?"
Possible answer: One Tree Grill.
The night after I watched that television interview, I pulled up a chair in the Epsom restaurant and paid $25 for the "heirloom carrots" entree. When the plate arrived, I counted five carrots and one restaurateur laughing all the way to the bank.
It's supply and demand, of course. Meat is a middle-class evil, bread is the devil incarnate and the modern entree is a conundrum solved only by cauliflower and/or carrots.
Actually, One Tree Grill served the roast cauli risotto as a $38 main. The other $25 vegetarian starter was "handpicked" mushrooms. (Are there any other kind? I googled mushroom harvesting but the internet just directed me to Woodhill Forest).
Anyway, my carrots. Sweet and slow-roasted to a satisfying chew. They were served on farro grains and viciously green kale and came with a coconut whip that I must stop ordering because it never tastes fresh enough. I didn't miss meat but then James had the wild venison carpaccio ($27) and for my second entree I had wild venison carpaccio envy.
The raw, glistening centre of the fillet was echoed in a sticky, berry sauce. The addition of duck liver parfait literally upped the game. It was a smart, viscerally pretty dish.
One Tree Grill does amazing things with meat. I had to balance those carrots with something, and it was the grass-fed hereford eye fillet ($45).
"How would you like that cooked?" asked the waitperson.
"However the kitchen recommends," I said, which led to a kind of stalemate where he suggested rare and also medium-rare. I kept nodding and I think we were both a bit confused. It came with soubise, cipollini, baby leek and black trumpet. I can say with 100 per cent accuracy that the leek on my plate was a fully grown adult but it was back to the internet to check on the rest.
Turned out, I was eating steak, onions and mushrooms. Restaurants cost more than supermarkets because they make the familiar a million times better (and they have to pay their staff). The sauce was deeply savoury, the (medium-rare) meat was perfectly pink and rested. There was a pile of shredded, slow-cooked ox cheek on the steak, which made so much more sense than, say, microgreens. I liked it all and then I had a bite of James' lamb rump ($45) and, for the second time that night, had serious food envy.
One Tree Grill has been around since puns were cool. It's in a homeowner's suburb, a long way from the city and I've always wondered how it so consistently scores in TripAdvisor's Top 5 Auckland restaurant lists (right now, it's second in the "fine dining" stakes, behind The Grove and before Sidart). Perhaps it is that lamb.
This was the template by which all other lamb should be judged. So rich, it reminded me of Mum's mutton roasts, so sumptuous I wanted to make it into a little pillow and fall asleep breathing its rumpy essence.
It is remiss of me not to have mentioned the menus. They're iPads, so you can click for pictures and beverage matches that extend to beers and non-alcoholic options. Cute. I couldn't figure out how to make the type bigger but at least I didn't have to switch on my phone torch.
Cake? Of course! The feijoa clafoutis ($19) was served with an interesting, almost marzipan-flavoured, pistachio custard. It was proper pudding, with a moreish buttery crumb. We're a long way from feijoa season, so thank you to whoever had the foresight to freeze and/or preserve these ones.
I chose the tonka bean brulee ($19). I could have eaten a bucket of the salty-sweet popcorn that was scattered throughout but I'm also a sucker for the smell of tonka and this dessert was appropriately caramel-vanilla-delicious. Too much of this Amazonian seed will literally kill you (contains coumarin) but I put my trust in the kitchen. Live now. Tomorrow, we eat carrot.