Address: 7 Fort Lane or 44 Queen St, City. Ph 929-2701.
Hours: Lunch, Friday; dinner Tuesday-Saturday.
Dinner bill: Appetisers $16; entrées $27; mains $42; desserts $18.
By Simon Wilson, February 2012
He’s a jelly man, this guy. You might have thought gels were a bit out of favour these days, but Sean Marshall, executive chef at Roxy, has other ideas. He’s got a clear yuzu jelly in a tuna entrée that sits in little blobs on the plate, barely holding together enough for you to get a fork under them, forcing you to pay them careful attention — and when you do, you discover such a delicate edge of citrus it lifts all the other flavours, turning a good dish great.
There’s more, most triumphantly in the “fish soup”. Their quote marks, not mine. It’s a bouillabaisse, although not as they know it in Marseille. Marshall serves up a richly, fishily flavoured cold consommé jelly, surrounded by single serves of various fish: smoked octopus, butter-cooked scampi, crab with chilli and lemon mayo, a clam soused in vermouth, raw whitefish in rice- wine vinegar wrapped in cucumber, scallop custard… It’s gorgeous, every mouthful, each different from and building on the last.
Fine dining always ought to deliver moments like this: dishes where the chef has taken such care and been so creative that everything else stops and you discover a whole new pleasure in eating. Marshall has many other fine things on his menu: sweetly melt-in-the-mouth razorback pig; a commandingly full-flavoured goats’ cheese tart; a juicy fat wedge of poached crayfish; heirloom strawberries served with a delightful clear “tomato water”. Renowned as the chef of Wellington’s Matterhorn, he’s moved north, and we’re lucky to have him.
Surprisingly, especially given the restaurant’s masculine styling (all distressed industrial chic, blacks and browns), there’s a real lack of carbo. The mini-baguettes and sourdough rolls are delicious, but this is not a bistro and the food is not designed to be accompanied by bread. Apart from a risotto base with the crayfish entrée, the only exceptions to this lack, when I visited, were the two vegetarian dishes, one of which features polenta and fried bread, and the other potato and ravioli.
All the mains are served with their own vegetables, so that each dish is fully conceived. I really love that, especially as those veges include native greens, morels, artichokes, celeriac, young turnips, candied tomatoes, smoked aubergine, chestnuts… Hallelujah: beans with almond slivers have been banned, and the full mains plates don’t get boring, which is the curse of restaurants where the chef would rather be doing dego.
The floor staff at Roxy are nearly all European. I asked why. “Oh, you know, New Zealanders and Australians,” manager Gary Olasz said with a smile and a shrug. Olasz is Hungarian, and is also the sommelier, and his knowledge of the vintages, the vineyards and the winemakers, from here and abroad, is outstanding. He’s got a lovely big smile and an eagerness to explain, although he wraps them up in the usual formal European reticence. I think it borders on forelock-tugging, but I should record that he charmed the pants half off my wife, so what do I know? Maybe if I tried treating her with a bit of hand-folded deference she’d say, “Yes please, I would like a little more,” to me too.
Restaurants often complain that it’s “hard to find good help”, but this is not entirely a bad thing. The best waitstaff know how to make you feel special — to conjure the illusion of friendship for the evening — and while the staff at Roxy are smiling and attentive, you don’t quite sense engagement. Okay, locals don’t care enough about service etiquette, but there’s much to be said for good-humoured Kiwi personality too.
And the room itself? Well, I’m a little underwhelmed. Architects Fearon Hay did the whole complex (which includes a bar/bistro and great boulevard cafe downstairs, but I’m told they didn’t do the interior fitout. So while it works pretty well, with a very high stud, mezzanine and rooftop garden bar, it feels just like a thousand other restaurants in the universe: not so much designed as lifted straight from a catalogue. Roxy is brand new, and very good, and I expect it will get even better.