Nov 14, 2014 Restaurants
472 Richmond Rd, Grey Lynn. Ph 360-6207. siostra.co.nz
Tuesday to Friday: 11am-11pm; Saturday & Sunday: 9am-11pm.
Dinner bill: Brunch $4-$18; lunch $8-$22.50; dinner $26-$34; charcuterie $12-$34; dessert $14.
By Jesse Mulligan. Photos by Ken Downie.
Esther Lamb is a rock star of Auckland hospitality, so when she ditched Sunday Painters for a career in law, it was probably inevitable she’d go crazy trying to fit into corporate life. You can imagine her on a long afternoon at the office, her fingers going thrud thrud thrud on the desk, as she gazed out the window and wondered… what if we got the old band back together?
Siostra is the reunion gig, in the old Delicious, with Esther running front of house and her sister Beki at the stove. I always felt Painters was dwarfed by its location on Ponsonby Rd, but isolation suits the new place in suburban Grey Lynn. You feel this could be the next Engine Room. Just not quite yet.
The Engine Room menu is simple but perfect, while Siostra’s is ambitious, delicious and only occasionally off. A T-bone steak was about half the thickness of a standard cut, so came up a bit like a Hamilton barbecue — the juices pooling with the coleslaw didn’t help. Sardines were hard going, wrapped up in a vine leaf — they need a good blasting, in my experience, or they steam up like canned tuna.
But, wow, there are some crackers. The beetroot salad may be my dish of the year: beets two ways, roasted and dehydrated, with a sprinkle of crunchy freekeh and soft spheres of white goats’ cheese, all balanced on crispy, bitter witloof leaves. The tart is a lorry load of perfectly cooked mushrooms, dumped on a pastry case that tastes like good shortbread.
The deep fryer is well used, and used well. That steak came with the most incredible accompaniment — a tart, fiery pickled jalapeño stuffed with rich crab meat and fried in a light crunchy batter. Brussels sprouts exploded into toasty flowers in the hot oil. Apple pie is deep-fried, too, a clue that Chef regards both calories and fashion as irrelevancies to the pursuit of taste.
Holy smoke, the wine list is also incredible. You’d struggle to do better by the glass anywhere in Auckland — and if pouring four different Spanish albariños seems like overdoing it, just remember that a lot of restaurants struggle to offer a white that came from further away than Blenheim.
The service staff are easy to like and, luckily, easy to forgive. We had long delays on our first visit, with nothing to do but listen to the waiters drop stuff on the floor. A couple of weeks later, some were still getting up to speed, forgetting cutlery and fudging their way through the menu. Esther can’t be everywhere at once, and she’s aware that there’s plenty of training still to do.
More important than any of this, though, is that Siostra is working. The locals take most of the tables by 7pm, and you can see why — it’s fun and tasty and bustling and, if you drink too much, it’s easier to walk home from here than from Northcote.
Siostra seems to be open almost every hour of every day, so there’s good potential for a coffee in that sunny front window to turn into a glass of wine, with a bowl of smoky almonds and, inevitably, a long sprawling dinner, with friends from your antenatal group/yoga class/Robyn Malcolm TV vehicle dropping in.
You’ll make plenty of noise in that room of clattery furniture and hard surfaces, but Esther won’t mind. Silence feels like death when you’ve run your own restaurant; anything you do to make the place sound different from a lawyer’s office will no doubt be music to her ears.