Auckland Restaurant Review: At Anise, Sid Sahrawat Shows What His Team Can Do

By Jesse Mulligan
At Anise, the kingfish comes topped with a cold sorbet. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Modern pan-Asian

Address: 210 Symonds St, Eden Terrace

Phone: (09) 377 1911

Drinks: Fully licensed

Reservations: Accepted

From the menu: Chef’s menu $150pp

Rating: 19/20

Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good, give it a go. 16-18 Great, plan a visit. 19-20 Outstanding,

Unusually, this review dinner wasn’t my first visit to Anise. That occasion was a media launch event, the first I’ve attended for almost 10 years thanks to a live 7pm TV commitment that became a serious impediment to gobbling up free meals.

My first look at Anise was a great way to break the drought but — nice introduction to the restaurant though it was — it’s hard to pay serious attention to the food when you’re full of free cocktails and trying to keep up with Kerre Woodham’s anecdote about the English cricket team. We ate all sorts of delicious things but I remember going home feeling a little sick (not the anecdote’s fault, it started ominously but ended cleanly), so I was looking forward to returning and enjoying the menu at my own pace, with a glass of wine I wasn’t gulping down extra quickly in case somebody turned off the tap.

How lovely it was to properly study the Anise drinks menu for the first time. The cocktail list is a lovely feat of imagination, each concoction listed by its featured tropical fruit or, occasionally, rhizome. The ginger/cognac/spices one looked very good but I opted for mandarin, a refreshing clear tincture featuring yuzu sake and a soda made from the skin of the fruit, plus plenty of ice and some little molecular mandarin “jewels”, each squishing and bursting to the bite.

A floral photo by Emma Bass hangs in the dining room. Photo / Babiche Martens
A floral photo by Emma Bass hangs in the dining room. Photo / Babiche Martens

They have a destination wine list too, lovingly curated by the sommelier with a page and a picture devoted to each of his contributing countries: Australia, America, Argentina, but also rarities like Japan, Lebanon and Greece.

“And what an interesting part of Greece!” he said, enjoying my enjoyment of his leatherbound creation. “We have a 2007 rosé from the mountains, which … ”

He continued for some time. I loved it. I’m not in the habit of browsing a restaurant’s cellar selection but I have friends who do and they’ll be relieved that the transformation of French Cafe into the purportedly more casual Anise hasn’t involved rationalising the wine list.

How much more casual is Anise than its predecessor? Well, the staff wear blue jeans. Aside from that, I fear that asking Sid Sahrawat to do casual is like asking Mozart to write a jingle for your roofing company. It might not quite be art on a plate like the old days of Sidart but it is extremely high-end food — to look at and to taste.

“The mains will be more … I don’t want to say rustic, but ...” Sid began and trailed off, when I pointed out things had been quite flash so far.

The wagyu beef rib in red curry. Photo / Babiche Martens
The wagyu beef rib in red curry. Photo / Babiche Martens

No, I wouldn’t say rustic: duck, dry-aged until the skin is “glassy”, served with a cheffy rendang and lightly pickled enoki mushrooms; a stunning wagyu beef rib so intensely fatty it could have been brisket, served in red curry and topped with an array of nectarine slices (I haven’t seen a precedent for this combo but it wouldn’t be the first time Sid or one of his proteges imagined two random flavours together and thought, “why not?” — this one works fantastically); the most rustic thing was the fried rice but even that was flavoured with a crispy chicken skin and scattered with microgreens — it’s the simplest thing you’ll eat all night but perhaps the most moreish.

You’ll have guessed by now that all the food is fantastically flawless. We did the chef’s menu which for $150 is pretty unmissable unless you’re visiting on a budget. My ingredient memory is pretty good after 15 years in the game but I inevitably need some support when eating at one of Sid’s restaurants, so I emailed for a list of what we ate. They replied with a list of 16 different dishes, each with at least half a dozen components (if reading through them all is your sort of thing you will have already worked out I’m not the reviewer for you, but I’m happy to forward the email to anybody who wants it).

Instead, shall we talk about some of my favourites? A beef “pie” was a spoonful of cheek braised in a deeply spicy, slightly sweet Thai green curry, wrapped in pastry and deep-fried until flaky and crunchy. A scallop wonton was memorably beautiful, the sliced scallop flavoured with sesame, chilli and miso and squeezed between three pieces of crisp pastry, like the world’s fanciest club sandwich. The kingfish came topped with a cold sorbet — the icy sweetness a risk in anybody else’s hands but here an assuredly beautiful way to celebrate the fresh, pink slices of fish.

“We didn’t have anything like this in Auckland,” says Jesse Mulligan. Photo / Babiche Martens
“We didn’t have anything like this in Auckland,” says Jesse Mulligan. Photo / Babiche Martens

“It’s awesome to have somebody who’s going for it,” said one of our group, and she was referring to so much here — the chef, the restaurant industry, and New Zealand as a whole. We’d just been talking about national mojo, about the downsides of a cultural laidbackedness that sometimes verges on complacency. So yes, we should celebrate our uncomplacent heroes like Sid and his head chef here, Tommy Hope.

In the final stages of the meal, Tommy arrives tableside with a glowing piece of charcoal and uses it to scorch and seal the lemon tarts “s’mores style”.

“Have you ever dropped that charcoal?” I wondered.

Yes, he had.

“It gets hard when you have to do 10,” he admitted, and I noticed the tongs were metal, presumably transferring the 1400C heat of the white-hot charcoal directly and pretty efficiently on to the skin of his bare pink hands, multiple times each service.

It’s all very casual though.

We don’t have anything like this in Auckland; I’m so glad Sid and his wife, Chand, have given it to us. And if you miss the French Cafe, well, you can eat there too — the kitchen across the courtyard where that icon still operates three nights a week was full. Yes, the Sahrawats are going for it, and Aucklanders should be so grateful for that.

A feijoa dessert. Photo / Babiche Martens
A feijoa dessert. Photo / Babiche Martens

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From dining out editor Jesse Mulligan.

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Parnell has a beautiful new Samoan restaurant. You won’t find anything else like it. ‘I’ll be very interested to see how this one goes.’

A Ponsonby newcomer takes its chances on ‘a lightly cursed courtyard’. The Chinese eatery is the latest in a flurry of fusion concepts opening around the city.

At this sizzling restaurant in Wairau Park, find a bounty of Korean barbecue. The staff radiate at least as much warmth as the restaurant’s bucket of glowing coals.

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