Review: Galbraith's, Grafton
Address: 2 Mt Eden Rd, Grafton
Ph: (09) 379 3557
Cuisine: Slightly flash pub food
From the menu: Jerk chicken $11.90, Polenta squid $9.90, Lamb ribs $21.90, Market fish $26.90, Pavlova $11.90
Drinks: Fully licensed
Steady yourselves - I'm about to wax eloquent about a pub. A chef whose food I have long admired has recently taken up the head position in the kitchen of an alehouse. Beki Lamb, ex-Stella, ex-Ella and, until last year, Sunday Painters has moved to Galbraith's Alehouse at the top of Mt Eden Rd.
It's a pub in the truest sense of the word, one where the aroma of hops from the brewery hits you as soon as you enter, the carpet is the tough-wearing variety, the owners are in the house more often than not and it's a pub independent of any brewing giant. It's a bit rough around the edges, but aren't we all?
Beki has revamped the menu; she's smoking her own garlic for the wild boar burger patties, and making the terrine from scratch. There are vegetarian and gluten-free options and a substantial kitchen garden out the back.
Some of the menu items are expected to change with the seasons, but I doubt if the burgers or fish and chips will go very far - there'd be too many regulars disappointed, judging by the number I observed, solo dining, noses buried in their novels or scratching away at a crossword, tucking in to these pub staples.
Happy, comfortable, at home - that's how the diners seemed. Some wore suits while others had backpacks and we were told we'd missed the scrabble group, which takes up a table in the corner, by a night.
We started with a generous plate of polenta-coated squid which was gritty and crispy and came with a punchy chipotle mayo. The jerk chicken, when it arrived, made the chipotle mayo seem mild by comparison. Jamaicans pride themselves on their scorching hot scotch bonnet-based barbecue sauce and Galbraith's succulent chargrilled chicken thighs were a close rendition of the real thing.
Tempting as they were, we gave the pie, burgers, bangers and mash and other pub-menu predictables a miss in favour of testing out the kitchen with the "fancier" mains; snapper served with purple Maori potatoes and a dish of balsamic-glazed lamb ribs on chickpea puree.
The lamb was gorgeous - tasty, sticky and slid easily from the bone - and the chickpea puree was pure comfort food. Alas, the cucumber and mint salad suffered from either mint sauce replacing fresh mint, or onions that had oxidised. It left an unpleasant aftertaste. Nothing wrong with the market fish, though; crispy skinned fresh snapper fillets perched on top of a smoky purple potato mash, lively roasted tomatoes and a peppery watercress salad. It gives some indication of how reasonably priced eating at Galbraith's is, with the market fish - the priciest menu item - topping the bill at only $26.70.
The pavlova was cooked, or should that be overcooked, to perfection. I don't go for pavlova that's pure and white as the driven snow; I'm after more colour and caramelisation than that. Beki is of the same persuasion, it seems - her individual pavlovas are latte-coloured, plenty crispy enough, but just a little bit chewy, too. She lifts the lid and fills them with softly whipped cream and passionfruit curd. They're gorgeous and we fought over every last sugary mouthful. Forget the fake passionfruit pulp drizzle though; there's never a good enough reason to use that, even less so when the purple beauties are in season.
There's table service at Galbraith's, but only just. You order and pay at the bar, but boy is that nice for a change, because not only does it mean you get to talk to the friendly barman but you can leave whenever you're ready. As we left a couple of friendly regulars thanked us for coming in and I can't wait to go back. There's a sense of community within those majestic walls and damn fine food to boot.
Thanks, Ms Lamb, and thank you Galbraith's - don't go changing.