If you believe the art of formal dining has disappeared, an evening at Number 5 will convince you otherwise. A quiet, gallery-like atmosphere, plush yet tasteful furnishings, carefully placed objets d’art and white tablecloths ironed to razor-sharp crispness are just the start.
I have been coming to this restaurant intermittently for 30 years. Back in the day it was THE place to dine in Auckland, the flashiest of the flash. No matter that it was easily the most expensive, we happily paid above the odds just to add it to our dining CV.
There have been many renditions of the Number 5 song in the intervening years. Some have been successful, others not quite so much. As a result, Number 5 fell off the top-hits list. Now, after some love and care, it’s in the hands of owner/ chef Jack Crosti, formerly of Sidart and Beirut and most recently The Grove. With such credentials I shouldn’t have been as apprehensive as I was, but fond memories are not something to give up easily.
The surprises began at the door. On this night our host was Crosti himself managing the floor with all the grace and professionalism of a top-rate waiter. His service was as assured and perfectly modulated as the food delivered on our plates. I asked him who was in charge of the kitchen and without a flicker of hesitancy he replied that while he had chefs on the stoves, he was in control of the pass. This unexpected level of passion and dedication was on show the entire night. While I waited for my companion, a gift arrived in the shape of a delightfully light and airy wafer gently seasoned with a dukkha-like powder, a perfect accompaniment to my wine. Next came a selection of amuse bouche, each a delicate yet powerful hit of flavour. My favourite was the ‘olive’, a tiny green molecular explosion of pure beauty.
Crosti’s menu is a compact selection of four entrées and four mains, one fish and three meat. Their description is pleasingly simple and uncomplicated by unfamiliar terms yet each included an element that heightened curiosity: tofu with hay-smoked swede; wagyu with cigar, and skate with summer pine.
I opted for the tofu and wild mushroom stock. It was wonderful; the tofu firm but light, the clear bouillabaisse broth richly earthy and intense. The Iberico pork belly was a masterclass in technical cooking. Eighteen hours sous vide braise, a quick sear in the pan and finishing in the oven resulted in a stunningly tender piece of moist pork that held fast to its meaty texture. Onion and mandarin offered hints of sweet and sour, but it was the flavour of the pork that provided the memories. My companion had the skate and it, too, is worth a special mention. The cooking technique employed was perfect, delivering delicate and delicious fish that satisfied with each forkful. For our money, the inclusion of ginger was a tad heavy-handed and distracted a little but, on balance, this was another thoroughly enjoyable dish that we would happily order again.
For dessert we shared a dish of poached stonefruit with fig-leaf custard. This was the last in a line of dishes that cleverly disguised their complex construction with their simple description and fuss-free presentation.
Crosti is a very clever craftsman, one not afraid to show his skills and artistry by employing a range of cooking techniques to complete one dish. Like so many others, he is a stalwart of using the best ingredients, many locally sourced. Where he stands out as one of the few is in his ability to deliver food that builds, without camouflage, the essential taste of key ingredients. For those who seek and appreciate great dining opportunities, this is an admirable quality and another pleasant surprise. KERRY TYACK