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The lift shoots us upwards and with it our expectations soar. SkyCity, which has been steadily increasing the quality of its dining offerings since 2011, made the decision to close the doors on dine by Peter Gordon earlier this year and relocate this star chef to the 53rd floor of the Sky Tower.
The Sugar Club has a suave and elegant fit-out and we feel very chic swishing past the cute bar with black cushioned seating facing out to the terrific views, to our table, elegantly adorned with a single white chrysanthemum. Magic.
One look at the menu and Gordon's trademark fusion cuisine is obvious. There's evidence of Southeast Asia in laksa and spicy salads, the Middle East and Mediterranean with ingredients like sumac, medjool dates and cumin. Dashi, yuzu and tamarind all make an appearance, too.
The menu is structured with all dishes entree size, allowing diners to order from two to six of them each. The rationale behind this, Gordon says, is to encourage sampling of a wider range of flavours. Three courses, we're told, is equivalent to an entree and main, so we go for this option.
The first dishes come; never has a bowl of pasta looked prettier than this. A tangle of beautifully cooked linguine, the strands so thin that it must be a careful balancing act to cook them just right (and they have been), intertwined with soft, sweet shredded crab and toasted pine nuts, saffron underpinning the dish with its elusive, mysterious flavour. It is a bowl of soft, creamy deliciousness that skilfully avoids being sloppy. In another dish, buffalo mozzarella is somewhat overpowered by a heavy-handed tamarind relish. My preference is to leave this fresh cheese to shine with more delicate flavours.
Seared tuna is marvellous with flavours of yuzu and umeboshi lending their citrus and salty notes, and the inclusion of a battered Bluff oyster is delightful. Venison is cooked rare and given the Thai treatment in a spicy salad packed full of lime, roasted peanuts, fresh pineapple, mint, coriander and textures of roasted wild rice and crispy shallots.
Our final savoury dishes are the best yet; a neat piece of hapuka is soft and moist and topped with a forcemeat of prawn and panko crumbs. The wok-fried greens served with it are exquisitely flame-licked, smoky and deliriously good. A duck breast is fanned out across an eggplant shiitake salad and creamy polenta is made interesting with smoky flavour. A tiny cone is filled with smooth, unctuous duck liver parfait. Splendid.
We're tempted by desserts, which cleverly then takes us up a bracket into the four-course menu. A spiced baked custard dessert, vattalapam, is wildly flavoured with cardamom and mixed spice and it is exquisite. The creaminess is offset by the soft thud of cashew nuts. But an old-fashioned lemon pudding is unspectacular, partly because it isn't served warm enough, so not all is sweetness and light with this new establishment.
The service, too, is not uniformly fabulous. It is at times uncertain and ill-informed and serves as a reminder that when restaurants enjoy fantastic locations they can fall down in other areas. The Sugar Club has the potential to buck this trend - let's hope it does.
From the menu: Four dishes, $105 a person: Clevedon buffalo mozzarella, seared yellow fin tuna, Otago saffron linguine, Thai style venison salad, prawn and panko hapuka, five-spiced Cambridge duck breast, old-fashioned lemon pudding, vattalapamDrinks: Fully licensed
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