Auckland Restaurant Review: The Emerald In Epsom Is The Right Kind Of Neighbourhood Spot

By Jesse Mulligan
The mushroom salad, venison salad and Eton Mess on the menu at new restaurant The Emerald in Epsom. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Bistro

Phone: (09) 624 0363

Address: 581 Manukau Road, Manukau

Reservations: Accepted

Drinks: Fully licensed

From the menu: Mushroom salad $23; risotto $25; pork belly $27; tarakihi $34; venison $38; Eton Mess $19

Rating: 17/20

Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good,

I can’t think of another Auckland restaurant like this one. It’s suburban but sophisticated, classy but casual, with decor that is ornate but tasteful.

“How would you describe the vibe?” my dining partner, Jon, asked me when we arrived. “Singaporean ex-pat bar?”

“I’m really not sure,” I said, but he was on to something. A little bit tropical, a little bit colonial, a little bit Epsom. Like somewhere James Bond might drink if he was priced out of Herne Bay.

After 10 years of reviewing, I don’t visit a new neighbourhood restaurant with an unknown chef expecting much, and perhaps that was the secret to my happy experience. I kept waiting for a dish that didn’t work, a waiter with no clue, an owner out of his depth... but it never happened. Emerald is brand new but if they’re stuttering to start there’s no sign of it. They were full but the guy in charge seemed relaxed and up for some banter.

“I’ll tell you something interesting,” he said. “This used to be the ASB branch where Jonah Lomu worked.”

“Gosh,” I said.

“I guess it depends on your definition of the word ‘interesting’,” he reflected.

The bar at The Emerald. Photo / Babiche Martens
The bar at The Emerald. Photo / Babiche Martens

Even before it was a bank it was a famous Auckland landmark: Greenwoods Corner — a triangular plot of farmland that you can read more about on a friendly informational sign while you’re outside waiting for your Uber home. I love those little images that help you understand what this city was like before a city. My late grandfather once told me about his family moving up from Christchurch in the 1920s. Traffic was so light back then, there were five minutes between each car on State Highway One. Think how short the drive-thru queue must have been at KFC Bombay.

Aha! I thought, back now at the start of the meal inside Emerald and reading the drinks menu. They had a “Negroni Sour” listed in the cocktail section, but the ingredients looked like a straight Negroni. Was this an amateur mistake?

“It’s got a little extra citrus, a little sugar syrup and some foam,” the waiter informed me. “It just softens the classic negroni a little.”

In my opinion, a real Negroni needs no softening and I ordered one so that I was able to confirm this for you. It arrived, I took a sip, then put the drink down.

“Godammit,” I said.

“Is it bad?” Jon asked.

“Worse,” I said. “It’s good.”

The Emerald is “a little bit tropical, a little bit colonial, a little bit Epsom”. Photo / Babiche Martens
The Emerald is “a little bit tropical, a little bit colonial, a little bit Epsom”. Photo / Babiche Martens

Restaurant reviewing is easier when there’s stuff to make fun of but the food menu was desperately short of LOLs as well. A nice list of small dishes, another list of big ones and a good spread of proteins both familiar and exotic.

My eyes lit up when I noticed pork belly on the entree list and pork loin among the mains.

“Could there BE any more pork dishes on the menu?!” I exclaimed with great comic effect, but my heart wasn’t in it. This was a decent menu.

The most suspicious dish was an enoki mushroom salad but the worst you could say is that the enokis were only the third most prominent ingredient behind pickled pears and gorgonzola, which worked beautifully together, of course. The mushrooms were raw, skinny and numerous - almost playing the role of sprouts - and with green leaves and a tasty but restrained vinaigrette over everything, it was a lovely dish.

The mushroom salad. Photo / Babiche Martens
The mushroom salad. Photo / Babiche Martens

Though nothing is hugely adventurous, the classics are extremely well done. A green risotto comes with halloumi cubes and chorizo, with spring peas for sweetness and I’ll be shocked if you can stop eating it once you start. The pork belly is three small cubes on a very flavoursome cauli puree with black pudding on top, that salty savouriness doing a great job of balancing the rich mouthfuls of the main protein. Should they have offered four cubes to share between two of us? Possibly. But you know you’re having a great meal when this is all you can think of to complain about.

For mains, the venison is outstanding. Blushing pink tender slices are served on pieces of kūmara with beetroot (tart but sweet) and blackberries (sweet but tart). It would have been so easy to chuck a more forgiving meat on to this menu but the chef here lists it and roasts it with confidence. So who’s doing the cooking?

No sign on the website or socials I’m afraid, but their ability to do simple stuff magnificently is a good sign of their potential. Do pop in for a meal, and save room for the Eton Mess which is, if not extravagant, still an indulgent way to enjoy the late summer fruit.

The Eton Mess. Photo / Babiche Martens
The Eton Mess. Photo / Babiche Martens

It was an almost flawless night, until a large man saw friends sitting next to us and excitedly hurried over to plonk himself down in between us on the banquette. I looked down and saw the worst: my phone on the seat cushion, half obscured by his bottom, and my expensive reading glasses not visible at all.

Somehow both survived, but what would I do if they’d been broken? Yell at him? Fight him? I was no James Bond, so of course I said nothing, got up to pay the bill and went home feeling enfeebled.

So just one literal bum note, and it had nothing to do with the restaurant. They’ve done a great job of Emerald, a jewel in the Epsom crown and a great example of simple hospitality done well.

From dining out editor Jesse Mulligan.

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Grey Lynn’s new champion of hāngī pork belly and rēwena bread. The bistro’s menu moved from Italian fare to kai Māori, or a happy mix of both.

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