Restaurant Review: Britomart's Mr Morris Receives A Perfect Score
Jesse Mulligan deems Michael Meredith's excellent Mr Morris his new city favourite
Address: Cnr Galway and Commerce St, Britomart
Phone: (09) 869 5522
From the menu: Chicken skin parfait $6ea; pain au black pudding $6ea; cheddar pao $6ea; wagyu tongue $26; clams $27; chicken mole $36; fish $38; berry dessert $18
Drinks: Fully licensed
Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good, give it a go. 16-18 Great, plan a visit. 19-20 Outstanding, don’t delay.
And so we begin 2021 with a 20, 20.
Two perfect scores in two weeks for two chefs who have more than their flawlessness in common.
Ben Bayly at Ahi and Michael Meredith at Mr Morris both started their careers at The Grove, so we should also make space here to credit that restaurant's owner, Michael Dearth, who, it must be said, knows how to pick 'em (his other former protege, Sid Sahrawat, scored 20 for The French Cafe and 19 for Sidart last time we visited).
Yet there are loads of ways to distinguish Ben's cooking from Michael's, and loads of reasons you might be more in the mood for Mr Morris than Ahi, or vice versa.
While Ahi is a big, sprawling, baller restaurant, Mr Morris is small and personal.
The chef is close enough to touch and so handsome that it's difficult not to.
If you've only been in this room when it was Hanoi you'll be surprised at the transformation — they've left almost nothing the same.
Most striking, apart from that kitchen, are the natural timber surfaces on everything from the lampshades to the central island, where the chef looms, chopping, plating and decorating the dishes then, when he's done, claps his hands once to let the serving staff know it’s time to whisk them away.
Those floor staff are a pretty crucial part of the experience too.
I didn't quite follow the story of how they came to be here but for reasons that are probably Covid-related we've ended up blessed with a couple of extremely experienced London-types, whose two-woman Brexit is great news for the people of Auckland.
To talk to either of them about, for example, a glass of wine is to receive the level of pitch-perfect, knowledgeable charm you'd expect at a Michelin restaurant.
And their winelist is exquisite: my wife remarked that she's never found it so hard to choose between the different bubbly options (in case that makes her sound like an old soak, well, she generally only orders one drink and so wants to make very sure that it's a good one).
I fell in love when I spied a short list titled "Sipping Vermouth".
And then there is the food.
Michael Meredith has always had an eye for visual tricks and there is plenty of tomfoolery here.
Fans of the macaron "burger" he used to do at his eponymous Dominion Rd restaurant will enjoy dishes like the black pudding pain au "chocolate" where he has noticed the visual similarity between cooked chocolate and blood sausage, so has subbed the latter for the former and created a mouthful of wonderful, not unfamiliar to anyone who's had a good sausage roll.
He doesn't waste any opportunity to punch up one component of a classic dish and so, when you receive the duck liver parfait that used to come as filling for the macaron, this time it arrives on a cracker which turns out not to be a cracker at all, but a crisp shard of chicken skin.
Every one of the dishes we tried was that good, that flavoursome.
If you miss the cheese rolls at Roots Lyttelton (IYKYK) you'll enjoy the Mr Morris version, with plenty of that cheesy chew you can only achieve if everything comes together just right.
Green strawberries with clams was my wife's dish of the decade, those clams showing the spawning creaminess of midsummer but beautifully balanced with all the other acidity on the plate.
I had the wagyu tongue with some gelatinous tendons which was incredible with, again, some good crisp acidic tension from thin ribbons of pickled carrot piled on top.
And I haven't even told you about the mains, each of which could beat any other big dish in the CBD.
Snapper has never tasted this good — served with a smoky aubergine puree and tempura oyster.
Chicken was juicy and pink (the safe kind of pink) with singed crispy bits around the edges, so I think they must have done it in a sous vide then applied some sort of hot pressure to it, pollo al mattone ("chicken under a brick") style.
We finished with a light, seasonal dessert featuring five types of berry, lychee jelly and a lemongrass "soup".
One of those berries, I found out upon inquiring, was a blueberry mochi.
"What is a mochi?" I asked, and the waitress, knowing that a restaurant reviewer was listening and that everything could have gone horribly wrong, said thoughtfully to a colleague who just happened to be passing "how would you describe a mochi?", and without even pausing the other girl said, "I guess it's a sort of rice flour-based tapioca?" like she'd been training six weeks just for that question.
And she wasn't even one of the genius imports I told you about earlier.
What a pleasure it is to eat here — a new city favourite, and a restaurant worthy of Michael Meredith's gifted cooking.
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