Jesse Mulligan’s Auckland Restaurant Review: Ponsonby’s Jervois Steak House Is Exactly As You Remember It

By Jesse Mulligan
The lamb shoulder is served in a blackened skillet at Jervois Steak House. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Bistro

Address: 70 Jervois Rd, Ponsonby

Reservations: Accepted

Phone: (09) 376 2049

Drinks: Fully licensed

From the menu: Burrata $30; calamari $26; lamb shoulder $85; Angus scotch fillet $62; rosemary potatoes $12; truffle mushrooms $12; creme brulee $18.

Rating: 15/20

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, don’t delay.

There was a chaotic energy at Jervois Steak House when I visited, explained mostly (though not entirely) by them being a few staff short.

We arrived early (our fault) and were happy to take a drink in the bar and wait for our table, but this wasn’t a super-pleasant place to hang: the maitre d’ had time only to point us in the general direction, so we wandered through and hovered between some skew-whiff tables and chairs and the bar itself, uncertain whether we should take a seat or order from the moderately stressed gentleman pouring the beers.

The bar was stacked up with dirty glasses (I can count about 40 of them in the surreptitious photo I took) and nobody looked very interested in clearing them.

At least the negroni tasted good.

Upstairs at our table, there were long pauses in service — between, say, ordering a drink and receiving it — and though the waiter at all times exuded a mood of calm assurance, you did get the feeling the swan’s legs were paddling furiously underwater.

She should be commended for holding it together all night under pressure, and it was only due to bad luck on her part that I happened to be downstairs paying my bill when she tumbled noisily down the timber stairs, through the lobby, and into a table stacked with leatherbound menus.

“Are you okay?” I asked her.

“It’s been a long night,” she conceded, brushing herself down and heading back up into the war zone.

Jervois Steak House in Ponsonby "is likely exactly how you remember it," says Jesse Mulligan. Photo / Babiche Martens
Jervois Steak House in Ponsonby "is likely exactly how you remember it," says Jesse Mulligan. Photo / Babiche Martens

Last time I reviewed Jervois I warned that it was in danger of becoming stuck in time — a nostalgia restaurant that refuses to change anything in case they lose regular customers.

They’ve added virtually nothing to the menu since then despite a change of ownership and head chef — really, how attached do they think people are to this menu? — but the bigger problem I can spot now are the prices, which are eye-wateringly, heart-stoppingly expensive.

My friend Mark had recently lost his job so I wanted to buy him a steak. Like Homer Simpson asking for a bottle of the second-cheapest Champagne, I encouraged him to browse the less expensive half of the meat menu, and got away comparatively lightly when he ordered the Angus scotch, for $62.

Sixty two dollars! It’s an audacious price point, and one you can only really justify by being generous in other respects. But this is not the case at Jervois, where the meat is served alone in the middle of the plate, and almost everything else costs extra. Extra for salad, extra for chips; only the sauces are complimentary.

The burrata with fennel and roasted cashew romesco. Photo / Babiche Martens
The burrata with fennel and roasted cashew romesco. Photo / Babiche Martens

Though I’m largely unexcited by burrata, I ordered it for my entree because it was just about the only thing new from my first visit to the restaurant in 2009.

With a simple dish like this everything had better be perfect and it wasn’t quite: the sliced fennel it was dressed with was wet and tasteless, like somebody had forgotten to pickle it. The big globes of fresh cheese came with two slices of bread, each about the size of a credit card — again an opportunity lost for generosity.

In my effort to carve things up, a piece of burrata slipped off the plate and on to the table, where it remained through our entrees, mains and dessert. Mark had the calamari, which was good — chunky fried rings with a boldly spiced sriracha mayo.

Then we hit our main courses, which were fantastic. His steak was unimpeachably medium-rare and perfect with a red wine jus and rosemary roasted spuds, while I ordered the lamb shoulder, technically meant for two but, again, it was the only thing new on the menu and I figured I could take leftovers home and have a king’s lunch the next day.

The lamb shoulder. Photo / Babiche Martens
The lamb shoulder. Photo / Babiche Martens

That lamb really is wonderful: it arrives in a blackened iron skillet after allegedly being cooked for 12 hours, and beneath the perfectly flaking pink meat on the bone are some veges — carrot and onion — that have been roasted to the point of collapse and started to melt into the sticky meat juices.

It came with a little pan of mint sauce which had been emulsified to the point of creaminess and honestly I can’t think of a better classic meat dish in the city. I look forward to the next menu innovation in 2038.

The bill was $362, for an enjoyable meal that came without a sommelier and served by generally lovely staff who didn’t seem to know much about the food.

You could spend that much at The Grove and I could guarantee the guy pouring your water would know the name of the song that was playing in the abattoir when the animal who gave up its steaks was dispatched.

The creme brulee with mandarine marmalade and vanilla gelato. Photo / Babiche Martens
The creme brulee with mandarine marmalade and vanilla gelato. Photo / Babiche Martens

It’s possible of course that this is a review-proof business — a restaurant whose brand is so strong (“the place you go for a fancy steak”) and so unrivalled that it will continue to be successful even if the management aren’t exactly reaching for the stars.

For lapsed fans though, I can’t quite sound the trumpet that it’s time to come back. For better or worse, Jervois Steak House is likely exactly how you remember it.

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