The Grove 3 Hats




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The Grove is a tunnel of elegance. Having stepped up its small flight of entrance stairs, you look down the long arm of the L, with its potted kentia palms, ficus shrubs and pretty artworks, to the bar in wood and black leather – and you know you’re in for a good time. The Grove has one of Auckland’s most comprehensive cellar lists, offering 30 wines by the glass, and owner Michael Dearth and his staff will expertly guide you. Executive chef Benjamin Bayly is a conjurer of rich, bold flavours, using refined techniques and carefully sourced produce. He has the art of menu writing to a tee, making you want to order every dish on the list – and his team follow through on the plate. A ballottine of partridge with a centre of sweetbreads sits alongside luscious figs and a silken, earthy parsnip puree. The lovely bowls and plates enhance Bayly’s fantastic plating skills – every dish looks appealing and very Instagrammable.




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For nearly a decade, The Grove has offered Auckland diners some of the most exceptional cooking in the country. Current chef Benjamin Bayly’s consummate skill in the kitchen results in dishes that are innovative, beautifully presented and ultimately satisfying. Witness his roast chicken with black garlic and fricassee of corn fritters and corn bread, or his outstanding wild red deer, roasted in Earl Grey ash and served with tomato fondue, fromage blanc and sausage roll. Bayly’s menu is aided and abetted in its success by a carefully considered wine list, compiled by The Grove’s passionate owner, Michael Dearth. All tastes and price points are covered and Dearth’s ability to find just the right wine to serve with each dish is impressive. Service is polished, professional and always attentive. The Grove remains one of New Zealand’s finest restaurants.




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There’s an expert in the kitchen at The Grove. Chef Ben Bayly turns out a dish of crispy pig’s belly, poached hen’s egg, rocket emulsion and summer vegetables that is both gorgeous to look at and delicious to eat. He also does wagyu with black garlic and smoked bone marrow which, during our judging, was paired on the plate with fresh porcini flown up from a secret location in Christchurch’s Hagley Park. It was one of the most remarkable dishes we ate through the entire judging process. The room is both formal and informal, and that balancing act works to its advantage, making it neither severe nor downmarket. Proprietor Michael Dearth has an authentically Californian enthusiasm for his work, and it’s well worth talking to him about the excellent wine list — his pride and his pleasure.





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Divine food, attentive waitstaff: what more could you want for a celebration meal

One of my ‘‘besties’’ was in need of a cheer-up birthday dinner to forget that she no longer qualifies as 30-something. I knew just the place to make her feel better. At least I hoped that The Grove, in St Patricks Square in central Auckland and sporting a new chef, Ben Bayly, would deliver to its stellar reputation.

Previous chefs have included the talented Michael Meredith and Sid Sahrawat, both of whom helped to cement The Grove as one of Auckland’s finest restaurants, and owners Michael and Annette Dearth pride themselves on selecting only the best chefs to carry on the tradition of excellence.

The first feel-good factor arrived by way of the valet parking person who greeted us at the entrance. Settling in, we noted that the wine list was more ofawine encyclopedia, with Michael Dearth sourcing great wine from around NZ and the world. My friend is allergic to wine so she ordered a citrus blush cocktail and I opted for a glass of Peregrine 07 Pinot Noir.

To start I decided on the quail ballotine while the birthday pal selected the potato gnocchi. Both dishes were divine. The gnocchi encased goat’s cheese, tortellini style, and was accompanied by medjool dates that added sweetness to the cheese’s pungency. My quail was tightly rolled, and boned with a black pudding pinwheel, soft pate and pickled apple. My choice of main was glazed pork belly, perfectly square, with crackled skin and melting layers. I was struck with the balance of flavours: mangosteen and butternut squash were the perfect ingredients to complement the pork.
The birthday girl’s dish of lamb rack, all pink, juicy and rare, and lamb shoulder, slow-cooked and falling apart, showed off the chef’s treatment of classic-style dishes. One of the evening’s highlights came as a side dish —fries infused with truffle oil. Our other side dish—globe artichokes with capers, caramelised garlic and shaved parmesan—also proved the attention to detail that had gone into this menu. We thought it only right to finish with desserts, despite lamenting our widening girths. My friend ordered the caramelised banana galette which was a banana, sliced thinly, then layered on pastry, and caramelised. I settled for petits fours which included a small elderflower macaroon, a citrus chocolate fondant and a honeycomb chocolate.

The notion of fine dining can be offputting but my advice is: visit The Grove and you will be converted. The staff were polished, yet with a put-you-atease approach, and the food was outstanding. This was fine, innovative dining at its best and Ben’s influence on the menu appears to be taking The Grove to even greater heights. Cheered up? Ecstatic.




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A down-to-earth reader emailed me to lament the profusion of flash expressions on menus.
She asked about "degustation" – a word that restaurants here use for a tasting menu; in France it is applied to a set menu. But she also introduced me to "Liaison".

My research revealed that, to a chef, it means a thickening agent, usually of egg yolks and cream, but the pretentious wallies at the place where she had eaten had used it to mean the sauce thus thickened.

At The Grove there is a "financier" on the desert menu. The Blonde asked the waitress what it meant.

"Yes, I get asked that a lot," the waitress said ("You don't say," I thought) and went into a long and pretty handy explanation.

It turns out that it salutes neither a particular member of the investment community nor the entire occupational group (which must have contributed more than its share to the restaurant's success). Google it and you will find that it is "sometimes called a friand".
Well, actually, if you'll forgive me for saying so, it is almost invariably called a friand; financier sounds, well, fancier, but if you want people to stop asking what's for pudding, it will would make sense to call it a friand.

I'm not having a go at The Grove here, you understand. The restaurant world is full of fancy terminology.

I love "large-format wines", which The Grove is not alone in listing: a large-format wine comes in a big bottle, like a magnum or jeroboam, but because the big bottles contain really, really nice wine and they cost an arm and a leg, you can't call them big bottles because that's common.

Likewise the vegetarian main at The Grove is called an "assiette" of vegetables; if you did French at school you learned in the third form that "assiette" means plate, but who wants to watch the rest of the table eat milk-fed veal loin or duck breast with caramelised pork while settling for a "plate" of vegetables. The you deserve if you're paying $32 is an assiette.
In point of fact The Grove is so damn good that they can call food anything they want.
Since Michael Meredith moved on to start up his eponymous establishment in Dominion Rd, Sis Sahrawat has been turning heads all over town, winning Lewisham Awards in successive years – at the George in Parnell and now here.

In a simple long room – blond wooden floor, white linen, black padded walls – waiting staff of consummate intelligence and professionalism attend to the delivery of some of the best food in town: goat's-curd-and-chive tortellini with roasted beetroot; medium-rare slices of creamy-white veal loin with escargot and saffron foam.
The sweet-toothed can skip a main course and save room for a dessert degustation – a New Zealand first, I think – for $50.

Description of individual dishes seems superfluous, particularly since I went. In any case, someone without words like financier and assiette at his disposal might have difficulty doing them justice.

My advice, addressed in particular to the bloke who wrote to ask what the point is of reviewing restaurants no one can afford to go to: skip a couple of weeks of $120 disappointments and eat in.

Then pick up the phone and make a booking. You'll be glad you did.