Aug 24, 2012 Restaurants
Address: SkyCity Grand Hotel, 90 Federal St, City. Ph 363-7067.
Hours: Six days, 12pm-2.30pm; 5.30pm-10.30pm; Friday 12pm-10.30pm.
Dinner bill: Entrées $18-$33; mains $38-$52; desserts $14-$18; platters also available.
By Simon Wilson, December 2011
They do so much so well. The chocolate brown banquettes are wonderfully comfortable, and that same chocolate-coloured leather lines the downstairs walls, spelling luxury in a way few other top restaurants in this town can manage. As you take your seats and look around, you’ll see a restaurant full of contented diners, chowing down on succulent cuts of meat served on wooden boards with the accompaniments to their meals arrayed about their tables.
Steaks are the specialty, and they know what they’re doing: there’s no question that if you want a red meat treat, The Grill is the place to come. I had a wagyu special that would be one of the finest steaks I’ve eaten anywhere, and there are eight regular options on the menu. All manner of shellfish, shucked to order and delectable. Choices of fish, cooked to the edge of juicy deliciousness.
Pieces of rabbit, giant prawns, Caesar salad, broad bean and bocconcini on toast — the entrées are original and exquisite. The sides, especially the chips (agria potatoes baked in duck fat and served in a paper cone, bless them) and the heirloom tomato salad, also keep the standard high. There’s a long and very strong wine list; the service is impeccable: everyone works hard to get things right, attend to the little things quickly, ensure you enjoy yourself.
You can hear it coming, I’m sure: there’s a but. More than one. Honestly, I could have wept when those buts started coming at me, because I really wanted to love this place. SkyCity’s newest restaurant is the best steakhouse in town and it should be somewhere you’re happy to save your pennies for and want to return to often. And if you really care about steak and oysters, you should do just that.
But: it’s expensive without being beautiful. By the time you’ve added sides, you could easily be paying 50 or 60 bucks for your main, so you want the experience to be special. And yet despite all that leather, the room is inelegant, a misshapen box with no grace to its proportions, rammed into the corner of the Grand Hotel foyer with a view out to a horrible street. If I said to you, “Here’s five million bucks” — which is what it cost to create The Grill — “now go and make a restaurant,” I bet you’d come up with something nicer than this.
But: the wine list — its presentation — is about to get worse. Currently, the wines are organised by type, not varietal: light dry whites, rich savoury reds, and so on. It’s brilliantly customer-friendly, but apparently they don’t like it so they’re going to change it. That’s unfortunate.
But: almost all the food is extraordinarily rich. It’s special-occasion dining, which is always the excuse for piling on the butter. But when you’re eating rich red meat and fatty spuds you don’t need great drifts of cheese smothering your Caesar salad, creamy egg drowning the asparagus, intensely flavoured vinaigrette on the lettuce. Some simple, clean tastes to complement the meat would be great.
But: the pork. It’s on the menu in its own special box with a picture: “suckling pig” for two. Got a mental image of how good that could be? Keep it to yourself. At The Grill, they bring you a metal dish with a few parsimonious scraps and a couple of bits of crackling. It looks like they ran out and had to scrape together the findings. We were shattered when we saw it. We expected wow, but this just looked mean. To our waiter’s credit, he realised we were upset and insisted on bringing more pork. To the kitchen’s shame, the second dish contained just a few more scraps and no crackling at all.
Last but: in the foyer bar of the Grand, where you might like to repair for a drink after your meal, there are impressive paintings by Karl Maughan and Shane Cotton. And a grand piano that plays tunes all by itself. Tackiness amid the art: is there no one at SkyCity who can see the problem there?