Jesse Mulligan Auckland Restaurant Review: Gilt Is A Genre-Defining, Brilliant New Addition To Central-City Dining

By Jesse Mulligan
Citrus-cured salmon with asparagus at new inner-city restaurant Gilt. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Brasserie

Address: 2 Chancery Chambers, O’Connell St, Auckland

Phone: 09 300 3126

Drinks: Fully licensed

Reservations: Accepted

From the menu: Ox tongue $24; escalivada $22; crumbed lamb cutlets $46; cured salmon $38; cobb salad $24; parmesan beignets $16

Rating: 18/20

Score: 0-7 Steer clear. Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good, give it a go. 16-18 Great, plan a visit. 19-20 Outstanding, don’t delay.

If you’ve ever been surprised by renovation costs, spare a thought for restaurateurs who, like brides and boaties, seem to pay more for everything even when they’re trying to watch their budget.

“A chair like that costs $1000,” said Josh Emett, pointing to an empty one at the table next to us.

“We bought 90 of them, so that’s almost $100,000 before you even get to the banquettes. A thousand dollars! And that’s not even an expensive one. Some restaurants pay four thousand.”

The three of us stared at the chair, waiting for it to prove its worth. The chair stared back.

Josh wasn’t complaining, despite spending more than [”no comment”] on the whole refurbishment. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him complain, or express any sort of negative emotion. He is a bright, fit, restaurant presence, spreading positivity and energy wherever he walks and no doubt doing the same in the various kitchens where he takes charge.

Gilt is the latest one, though we have to guess what’s going on in that kitchen because it’s closed off from the dining room. That’s a bit old-school but then so are lots of things about this beautiful new restaurant including its location in the Chancery — one of the earliest areas of European settlement in Auckland, and probably more associated with the city booms of the previous century than somewhere you’d seek out dinner in 2023.

Gilt's new windows allow light to flood into the historic Chancery Chambers building on O'Connell St. Photo / Babiche Martens
Gilt's new windows allow light to flood into the historic Chancery Chambers building on O'Connell St. Photo / Babiche Martens

But here were 100 people who had all sought it out, and were by the looks of things very happy as they sat in this big open room, with new windows installed to let in some light and life from the outside world, and the floor level along the northern side of the room raised up so that diners can finally see out the windows that were already there. Josh isn’t the first person to take on this building, but he seems to have done the best job of working out what people in this area need: seclusion sure, but also some visual connection to city life.

The menu is extensive, borderline overwhelming. That probably doesn’t worry anybody but a restaurant critic, who has to try to eat a few things that will represent what the kitchen is doing, but finds that a bit hard when there are separate lists of raw, salad, vegetable, entree, pasta, main and (yes) potato dishes to choose from.

What are the pastas like? I don’t know, but I can tell you about most of the rest of it, including an incredible potato beignet — a complex blend of potato mash, parmesan, paprika and choux pastry, piped into a turret shape and deep-fried then lightly dusted with spicy cayenne.

The escalivada is Mediterranean vegetables with anchovies. Photo / Babiche Martens
The escalivada is Mediterranean vegetables with anchovies. Photo / Babiche Martens

From the vegetable menu try the escalivada — the only example of this dish in Auckland, as far as I’m aware. It’s a slow-roasted mix of Mediterranean vegetables — eggplant and capsicum primarily — which I suspect is less fancy in a Catalan tapas bar (there’s a little vege “cream” under the eggplant in Gilt’s version, to boost flavour) but still tastes fairly rustic here, with a big hit of salty deliciousness in each mouthful thanks to anchovy fillets laid carefully over the dish.

When I run into Josh we often bond over a shared love of offal. He is realistic about the appeal of this stuff on a fancy brasserie menu but does occasionally sneak things in — like the ox tongue here which, admirably, he doesn’t try to disguise at all (it’s become popular to scrunch it up on a kebab spike to help you forget what you’re eating), instead draping long strips of it on a plate, its pink curls looking exactly like the body part it came from. But if the taste of tongue can sometimes be a bit full on even for nose-to-tail devotees, it’s cut beautifully here with a sharp salsa verde.

The cobb salad is presented in neat rows, for tossing together with vinaigrette. Photo / Babiche Martens
The cobb salad is presented in neat rows, for tossing together with vinaigrette. Photo / Babiche Martens

I don’t want to give you the wrong impression — you’d have to work hard to eat weird here, and the stars of the show are still the familiar main proteins: a lovely plate of crumbed lamb cutlets, shallow fried and served with a yoghurt/almond skordalia. Victoria loved her salmon — which was both baked and cured, the preservation process helping the fillet to resist some of the de trop richness that can come when that wonderful fish hits the oven.

I’d add a side cobb salad, which is lovely in its simplicity and a joy to look at when it arrives, the ingredients laid out traditionally in neat rows for you to toss together. The vinaigrette is barely there, helping the flavour of the cooked eggs and olives to stand out.

There is a lot more to explore on this appealing menu and I suspect the locals — lawyers and money minders — will return often given how comfortable and client-friendly the room is. That shouldn’t put normal people off — this is a great place for couples and friends too, a new genre-defining addition to Auckland city dining.

From dining out editor Jesse Mulligan.

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