Oct 28, 2014 Restaurants
Euro Restaurant and Bar
Shed 22, Princes Wharf, Viaduct.
Ph 309-9866. eurobar.co.nz
Midday till late, seven days.
Dinner: Starters $22-$26; mains $34-$39.50; desserts $15-$17.
By Simon Wilson. Photos by Ken Downie.
First published in Metro, October 2014.
New life at Euro! “What we’ve done, essentially,” said the splendidly urbane waiter, “is get rid of the big tub of sugar in the kitchen.”
What? They had a big tub of sugar in the kitchen? Of course they did. Sugar is a chef’s secret ingredient: never listed on a menu, often added to a dish. Some chefs, by repute, add it to everything.
This is an entirely brave and exciting development. Remember Euro, that palace of plenitude, that altar of indulgence? Now, says Simon Gault, the garrulous bon vivant who runs the place, “The modern way to eat” largely dispenses with “refined sugar, trans fat, gluten, high carbs, feeling bloated and food hangovers”.
So they’ve got carrot and buckwheat bread, which is a thick, crushed, dried wafer, broken into pieces. The waiter described it as an “acquired taste”. I’d say it’s better than oatmeal, though I should mention I don’t like oatmeal. They’ve also still got the excellent Rachel Scott ciabatta, for those who wouldn’t dream of dinner without gluten.
Almost everything is beautiful to look at. The sashimi is so beautiful it feels a crime to eat it. The bowl of clams looks almost overwhelmingly magnificent.
The signature dish is flounder, filleted, served in citrus and chive butter sauce and hidden under a mound of crispy kale. It’s a really good showpiece: visually arresting and an adventure to eat as you work your way through the crispy deep-green thickets to the warm tasty flesh beneath. An old dish served in a new way, and Gault gets it utterly right.
The service is as fantastic as ever. Sophisticated, charming, very helpful. Wine tasting offered straight away. Good chatter. Meals organised in good time. A sad-eyed dignity that hints they have the long-suffering skills to deal with anyone who turns boorish — and have frequently had to employ them.
And the place itself has not changed, which is a mixed blessing. The dining room is lovely on a cold night and the terrace is so relaxing on a warm afternoon, yet the area between the two still feels like a cheap wedding marquee: white, plastic, draughty, ghastly.
The menu’s a pleasure to read: in print as on TV and in person, Gault is very good at talking up a dish. And yet, in the past, there have been disappointments. While ingredients, combinations and cooking processes have always promised so much, the flavours sometimes conspire to underwhelm.
That’s still the case. A lamb belly dish is a triumph of slow-cooking, and there are fried chickpeas on the plate that prove an inspired combination. But you also get two big wedges of cabbage which appear to have been cooking for about as long as the meat. Perplexing.
The bowl of clams has its own problems. It’s gigantic: yes, Gault still serves his food in ridiculously large bowls into which your cutlery inevitably slides. It’s more mussels than clams, and it comes with pork belly strips in an Asian broth. I found myself desperately wanting some sweet red peppers, something green, anything to provide contrast to the great pile of shellfish. And while that fish was beautifully tender, the flavours of the broth — advertised as galangal, lemongrass and chilli — were more idea than actuality.
They do veal tartare and it’s bland too, although it does come with a gorgeously rich little serving of confit duck and bone-marrow mascarpone. Pacific oysters, big and succulent but overwhelmed by tempura and served with a little bowl of “chipotle mayo” that perhaps had a spicy pepper stored near it in the fridge.
I have sometimes found it hard to love Euro, as you may know, and this is the reason. They have exquisite ingredients and yet seem so reluctant to use them with enthusiasm. Do they believe their customers don’t want big flavours or new things? The famous and mind-numbingly dull rotisserie chicken is still being served, which is a clue to something.
Despite all that, I really do salute Simon Gault for making this leap. He’s often been an innovator and he’s done it again. I’d love to return for that flounder, and for other dishes too. If Euro could commit to being as adventurous on the plate as they are in the menu, I’d rank the place very highly indeed.