Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review: Kermadec Fine Dining

It's funny how traditions start. When I first began dating my girlfriend I used to buy an Instant Kiwi for her at the end of each trip to the supermarket. We'd use any winnings to buy treats – a bag of mussels, a little sashimi snapper, a few leaves of smoked salmon – and before we knew it there was a new tradition, which I encourage you to follow in your own relationship: all Instant Kiwi winnings must immediately be reinvested in seafood.

On Saturday a lucky scratch won me $50 and I felt I had no choice but to book us in at Kermadec, a seafood restaurant of some repute, although apparently not enough repute to win it a place in this year's Metro Top 50. The girlfriend was doubly excited as it gave her an opportunity to use her Entertainment Card, a piece of discount machinery which reached it's ubiqitous heights in the early noughties, but which you can still find customers sliding under their bill at restaurants of varying merit right around the city.

Kermadec is a sprawling waterfront restaurant of almost food hall-like proportions. I hadn't realised quite how big it was, but when you're the first couple to arrive and there are already about a dozen people working frantically in the open kitchen, you know they're expecting a bit more Saturday night business than the minimum of two main courses dictated by our Entertainment Card terms and conditions.

I'm not well acquainted enough with the industry to know the subtle differences between casual, formal and fine dining, but Kermadec specifically promises the latter. They might be better to under promise and over deliver, as we had several service anomalies throughout the evening which would have been more forgivable if we were eating at Denny's (we probably will be eating there next week: it's an Entertainment Card special, and as the expiry date on that stupid piece of plastic gets closer she's started behaving as if we're on some sort of Amazing Race to visit all the participating restaurants in time).

Like what? Well, I asked if I could be moved next to my girlfriend rather than opposite her and with my back to the view – this was fine but I had to move the chair and the entire place setting myself. My hopeful request for an Old World style Pinot Gris recommendation was met with a blank look, although the choice I eventually stumbled on – Vin Alto by an Italian winemaker growing cloned vines from his home country in Clevedon – would have been a perfect suggestion. Our excellent but complicated dessert was described sparingly by the waitress, who concluded with a charming flourish: “and that's a sort of 'clay', which apparently tastes like chocolate.” Maybe she was new.

So no big problem but not exactly fine dining. Luckily the food was very good: my scallop entree rich but beautifully contrasted with salty pancetta pieces, and hers one of those virginal pieces of tuna sashimi which taste of nothing, but make your soul feel good (actually the tuna was seared, but I still refuse to use the 's' word to describe a piece of crimson meat with one millimetre of beige around the outside. What are they searing it with, a pair of hair straighteners?)

Mains were excellent too. I ordered the hapuku, a variety of fish which I sometimes find a little too waterlogged. This one appeared to have been poached which certainly didn't help, but the toasted wheat and scampi pilaf soaked things up nicely, and everything tasted very good. As I check the menu online now I see it was a 'confit' hapuku, which means it's been immersed in a flavourful substance. I don't recall any signs of this in the flavour of the finished product, but fish is one meat where neutrality of taste generally works pretty well, particularly when it comes with tasty bits and pieces around it as this did. 

The snapper was also very tasty and perfectly cooked, and came with salty, slurpy clams in their shells which would probably scare a few people off, but were more than manageable for two people used to directing their gambling winnings into bags of live cockles.

I'm not much fussed on dessert but my date loved it, love love loved it. One of the best ever, she reckons, and I reprint it from the menu here for your amusement: Nayarit Milk Chocolate Crémeux - with mandarin gel, licorice, caramelised bitter chocolate puff pastry and ice cream flavoured with the barrel of aged Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. [note: thanks to twitterer BrianCampbell80 who has pointed out that this dessert is not in fact the one we had ... I've left the above description in as it gives you a sense of the deliciousness, and it does share a few elements in common with the one we had on the night. Brian's also pointed out quite rightly that 'confit' has a more extensive definition than the one I've given above, so thanks again for that feedback - he's a chef so you should take his word for it]

We presented our Entertainment Card at the front desk and suddenly I was glad for the size of the place. Rightly or wrongly, it feels easier to present a discount voucher to a giant, faceless organisation than it does to hand it to some poor soul trader in Mount Roskill, who inevitably accepts your legitimate request to take 25% off the bill with the same good grace as if you'd presented a voucher demanding all of his children's books and toys.