ADDRESS: 85-87 Custom St West, Viaduct, AucklandLUNCH: 7 daysDINNER: 7 daysMAINS: $32 – $42WEBSITE: girafferestaurant.co.nzSCORE: 14 / 20
The viaduct on a sultry Friday evening is booming with baby boomers. Most restaurants and bars are packed. Giraffe, the latest venture by everyone’s favourite Masterchef judge Simon Gault, is no exception.
The old Mecca site is an awkward triangular space with an intersecting passageway to The Sebel. Yet it feels warm and comforting, elegant yet restrained. The open kitchen and wide bar area make the place bustle, while brass handrails and a spectacular curved bar-side table give a slightly nautical nod. And because it’s a Paul Izzard design it’s polished with an understated opulence.
The maitre d’ is warm and engaging and her wine matches for our mains were spot on, while our waiter efficiently despatched menus, water and talked us through the menu. As you’d expect from a Gault establishment the wine list is interesting, with a large and varied selection, and with most wines available by the glass it makes for great pairings. Beer too has a reasonable selection on tap and by the bottle.
Gault’s infamous rotisserie chicken is here and so too is the suckling pig for a family feast. Plenty of the tables for two around us are ordering the shoulder of lamb to share and those triple-cooked fries of great chunky pieces of potato individually wrapped with bacon. I wish I’d ordered some as they smelt delicious. But it seems slightly cruel to order a side dish that your pescatarian companion can’t enjoy.
Fellow critics have complained that the menu here is unwieldy and lacks cohesion. I wouldn’t go as far as that. It covers off the classics pairing the familiar with a twist of the unusual. I rejoiced in the fact that there is a separate vegetarian and coeliac/ gluten- free menu, although I did think it odd that our waiter steered us away from one of the vegetarian dishes.
A steak tartare was a wonderful rendition, lightly smoked yolk grated over hand-cut beef and fresh yolk, and was delicately spiced with nothing out of place, the hint of capers and Worcestershire sauce just so. And the accompanying charcoal-activated Melba toasts were not only visually appealing but came in sufficient number for a good ratio of meat-to-toast balance. Less successful was the trevally crudo where large slices of sharply acidic pickled shiitake overbalanced the delicacy of the fish. This is a popular dish, but ours was presented somewhat sloppily.
Though the tarahiki fillet steamed in spinach leaves with a coconut sauce was perfectly cooked, that failed to make up for its blandness, and a side of roasted cauliflower with hazelnuts coupled with cauliflower puree was delicious, although the brown butter tipped it to overly rich. There was no lighter relief in my main either. Pinched ravioli stuffed with milk-poached rabbit and pork was a delicate filling and perfectly seasoned for the robust pasta, but the creamy sauce that accompanied it was overbearingly rich and in need of some acidity. The salty sage tempura chip was a stiff piece of batter more likely to be seen in a fish shop. It was cooked in oil that needed changing and the wonderful flavour of sage was lost.
Passionfruit soufflé redeemed the mains with a clear passionfruit flavour and its sharp fruitiness countered the slightly eggy soufflé but melded well with the sago and coconut cream. Bar the slightly stale coconut rough, the liquorice and lime marshmallow was an exciting dessert to finish on. The ever-so-soft and gooey sweet, charred marshmallow was countered with lightly fermented pineapple, and the delicacy of the coconut sorbet.
Gault is a master at making food that is appealing and suitable for feasting throughout the day. No wonder then that Giraffe is so popular with family groups, as well as couples on a date night. The food is solid, consistent and generously portioned while the service is breezily efficient.