Aug 18, 2012 Restaurants
Ferry Building, 99 Quay St, City. Ph 307-6966.
Hours: Lunch and dinner, seven days.
Dinner bill: Entrées $14.95-$29.95; mains $29.95-$47.95 plus $8-$10 sides; desserts $12.95-$16.95.
By Simon Wilson, June 2012
French onion soup is like love: your first experience should be a wonderful one, because if it is, it will produce a sense of hope and happiness that sustains you through whatever in your life is to follow. Or, at least, it should help. One sip — one sniff — of the soup at Botswana Butchery did it for me: I was back with my first experience of the dish, from a recipe by Des Britten: sweet, slow-cooked onions, a rich savoury broth, a lid of sliced baguette smothered in cheese (Emmental at Botswana: the perfect choice, tasty but not weird). A hot strong bowl of winter heaven.
You can move on to steak, a trendily long list of options, and your choice of sauces, also listed at length. The more you pay, the better it gets — seriously, in my experience the cheaper cuts of meat at Botswana are way less appealing than the more expensive ones. Or you can ignore the “butcher’s block” part of the menu and enjoy a very moreish plate of “pig’s noggin” or an artfully presented seafood cassoulet with the beans piled daintily into the clam shells and around the fish. All very nice. Or pappardelle, with three cuts of wagyu minced into a bolognese. The pasta is good, the beef excellent, the sauce restrained — how often can you say that about bolognese?
The room is all awkward shapes and levels, decked out in contemporary rococo: mismatched winged armchairs, gold and black, velvet and satin, big stripes and lozenges and light shades — it’s like a hotel lobby in which they’re storing furniture as well as using it. “City style!” it shrieks; the brainchild, no doubt, of eager design students visiting from Hawke’s Bay. It’s faux posh and I think that’s deliberate. They’ve spotted a market. Even on a rain-swept Monday night there were quite a few customers; on Fridays, the City swaggers down from Shortland St in its dishevelled suits and dagger heels, barging through the cleaver-handled doors to engage in commerce with the super-groomed titans of that other, more famous Shortland Street. I’ve seen Michael Fay et fille in there, too, sloping along in jeans and loafers, and shiny orange hair. Respectively.
The secret of this place is that having created such a cornucopia of city stuff, they look after you with friendly aplomb and serve you comfort food. So you relax. It’s true, as the Twitterverse proclaims, that they get things wrong. While many of the staff are excellent — happy to explain, matching the wines well to the food, making you happy — some display such disinterested ignorance they were presumably press-ganged off the street 10 minutes ahead of service. Some of the food is not nearly comforting enough: duck leg confit is an ugly-looking, ordinary-tasting pile; creamed spinach a tasteless ball of greens in a sludge of cream. Desserts feature “toffee pop” and “bounty bar”, which any self-respecting pastry chef would serve as delightful reinventions of the originals. At Botswana, they seem merely to have copied them. The cheese list includes, wait for it, “brie” and “cheddar”, as if the chef and menu writer had both given up by then. Much of the food costs too much for what it is, especially as most meat comes on its own and you have to order sides. The wine list has tourist trap written on it in throbbing neon: Grange, Château d’Yquem, etc, for the price of a small car. But it goes down to $40 bottles too, and they’re well chosen.
It’s a great spot, in the Ferry Building, right on the water. Given there’s already a sit-up-and-behave-yourself restaurant upstairs, this one should be an elegant and easy place to veer into for a drink, be so charmed you stay for soup and a steak and catch a later ferry than you intended. Or if, like me, you don’t go home on a boat, a place to indulge a fancy that one day you might. On that rainy Monday night, that’s exactly what it was. Fridays, it’s all rather more carnal.