There’s something really pleasant happening high above Auckland. The Sugar Club, Skycity’s showcase for Kiwi cuisine, is benefitting from a prolonged and determined journey to find just the right combo of leadership, head chef and service style to make the dining experience as memorable as the long lift ride to the best view in Auckland. There has been, until now, singular elements of satisfaction but this time it felt more comfortable, more together than before. The guiding hand of respected Peter Gordon, who delivered us The Sugar Club some years ago is still evident. His influence on the styling of the dining area remains and his name heads the menu introduction that explains the fusion focus that has been so influential in establishing him as one of our culinary stars.
But there has been palpable change and, while there is not just one beat to the heart of this transformation, clearly a key ingredient is the work that Executive Chef, Josh Barlow, is doing with menu. Barlow joined The Sugar Club from The Grove, where in 2016 he took on the role of head chef working alongside Ben Bayly.
Barlow is clearly a major talent in his own right, with the assurance of someone much older and more experienced. There are glimpses of the Bayly style, as well as the Gordon approach, but there is also lashings of individuality.
The menu delivered well-tested flavour combinations such as venison and beetroot and salmon with fennel. Alongside these was a superb serving of monkfish with kimchi pumpkin. This fusion of fish from the South Island and Korean-inspired pickles with Singaporean herbs shows just how well Barlow has picked up Gordon’s focus on multi-cultural blends. Another dish that worked wonderfully well was the aubergine with a baked sesame crust. It shared a plate with feta, tahini yoghurt and mango dressing. The combination of savoury and sweet was formed beautifully, but with the welcome impact of a chef who knows how to wield a perfectly restrained hand. Barlow’s intelligent approach revealed itself further in a stunning work-up of Perigord truffle, chicken custard and black garlic.
Desserts were adequate, but need more attention. Our choices of grilled pineapple with lemongrass and coconut and another of Niuean honey parfait with coconut tapioca were tasty enough sweet treats, but stood somewhat in the shadow of the first courses.
Welcome changes appeared in other aspects of The Sugar Club experience. The service has lost that fussy and formal edge: we had a well-informed and engaging waiter and, watching others working the floor around us, suggests someone has reminded staff that diners should be the ones shining most brightly.
Mention must be made, too, of the drinks list, particularly the wine list sectioned into garden, sea, farm and planet. It’s a very fine selection and it now melds much more harmoniously with the menu.
Prices are at the high end, however the current offering of key elements make a visit both entertaining and good value.
The Sugar Club is fortunate to have convinced Josh Barlow to come on board and so long as service delivery and atmosphere can keep abreast of his adept handling of contemporary trends in Kiwi dining, this is a combination that, potentially, will take us much further into the heavens.