The Sugar Club - review
Ph 363-6365. sugarclub.co.nz
Hours: Lunch Mon-Fri 12pm-2.30pm.
Dinner 7 days, 5.30pm–10.30pm.
Dinner bill: Three small plates $80; four, $95; five, $105.
By Jesse Mulligan. Photographed by Ken Downie.
Every curious Aucklander will want to go to The Sugar Club once, but I’m worried about whether they’ll want to go twice. The menu is like the venue — good fun to look at and with easily enough entertainment for an evening. But for a restaurant that, before it even opened, had Peter Gordon, our most famous chef, in charge and the best view in the Southern Hemisphere, you’re left wondering why everything else isn’t quite as excellent.
Take the free bread (no please, take it). It’s baked off-site, so by the time it gets to you at 8.45pm, I’m assuming it’s most of the day old. It has no chance, anyway, because it’s served cold, with butter but no salt or oil. You eat it imagining how nice it should be.
That was a feeling I was getting used to. We arrived half an hour early for a drink, and were then left alone, with no offer of anything to nibble, for 45 minutes. Wouldn’t you think, at 8.30 on a cold Monday night, that your guests might be hungry? Or at least appreciate being asked if they were?
Fifteen minutes after our booking time, we were finally led to the table, carrying our own drinks. That’s okay in a bistro, not so much when the dining is supposed to be fine.
Over two visits we had missing cutlery, drink mix-ups and wrong dish drops, but I’m sure that stuff will be sorted out. I’m more worried about the things they had time to plan, like the terribly composed menu blurb, which uses bad grammar as a weapon of confusion and is written in the first person, though wisely unsigned.
It’s mostly about how to approach ordering from the small plates menu and, seeing your perplexed expression, the waitstaff have another go at that themselves, helpfully offering that each course is “around 75 grams”. This is pretty useful in helping plan your meal, particularly if you’re a drug dealer or an autistic savant baker.
I can report that 375 grams of food is at least 75 too much, so avoid the five-course offering and stick with three or four, at least two or three of which you’ll love. The dishes are a mix of European and Gordon’s much-discussed Asian-fusion, very-well-cooked meat and seafood accompanied by interesting ingredients fresh, pickled and fried. Mostly, the food is very good.
Standouts include a perfectly executed laksa, warming and filling with a spicy, smoky, creamy coconut broth. My lamb rack was the most tender young sheep I’ve ever bitten, served with eggplant, peas and crunchy cumin crumbs which didn’t break the flavour-match paradigm so much as strengthen it.
And yet, there’s too much of the sweet, sticky sauce dominating various dishes, IMHO, from the scallops to the pumpkin curry to the mozzarella. The curry manages okay but the excellent scallops get a little bullied and the mozz doesn’t stand a chance. I’d like a little less sugar at The Sugar Club, to be honest.
So, some criticisms here, but expectations are high. It’s a very good restaurant, but with beautiful, sophisticated décor (with surprisingly heavy use of imported materials), a star chef running the show, a view for 50 kilometres in every direction — and premium prices — it should be better than very good. It should be the best restaurant in town. Anything less is disappointing.
If the name Sugar Club really is a legacy and not just a convenient brand, there’s work to do.
This review appeared in the September 2013 issue of Metro.