Review: Euro, Princes Wharf
Phone: (09) 309 9866
Cuisine: Modern NZ
From the menu: Carrot bread $9, Veal tartare $25, Duck hoppers $26, Grilled octopus $22, Flounder $38.50, Lamb belly $39.50, Steak of the day $39.50, Fries $7.50, Celeriac salad (sm) $18, Coconut baba $17, Date loaf $17, Chocolate figs $15.50
Drinks: Fully licensed
Hoopla. That's what I thought when I heard Simon Gault was reinventing Euro's menu. Calling it "the modern way to eat", he's eliminated all refined sugars and unhealthy fats from his dishes. Euro? The waterfront spot best known for being the perfect place to go for long, boozy business lunches or for dinners that go late into the night was going raw? Well, not quite, but surely this was bandwagon stuff.
I meet two friends there. Our waiter fills us in on the new approach; we're told the refined sugars have been removed and replaced by coconut sugar, yacon syrups and more, that carbs barely feature in the mains, that the terrible oils have been replaced, that pressed juices are now pouring out of the kitchen like Euro invented them. We're told to expect to feel great even if we eat a full three-course meal each.
I'm excited but sceptical in equal measures and my dining companions look like they couldn't give two hoots, given neither have been huge fans of the Euro buzz in the first place. I'm thinking Gault may have his work cut out for him in convincing us.
The menu doesn't read like one that's had the fun or indulgence strangled out of it - there's still plenty of temptation with gnocchi, duck, rotisserie chicken, steak and short rib - and so off we go ordering and paying no heed to what or how much we eat, assured that we are in healthy hands.
I start with octopus, and being presented with a lone tentacle has me wondering if this is what it's come to - scarcity. But, with my first mouthful, I take it all back, realising that each component is perfectly and intricately executed, rich and flavourful; a light tomato ragout, sweet date paste, a lively parsley juice. The octopus is pleasantly chewy with none of that unpleasant sponginess. I'm happy.
I'm offered a mouthful of duck from across the table. Now, once in a while I encounter a dish that with the very first bite makes me want to leave the restaurant, just so that I can come back the next day to have it all over again. The duck starter at Euro is one such dish. Described as "Sri Lankan duck hoppers", it is pure heaven. Thin, lace-like pancakes hold a filling of sweet, meaty duck, tart rhubarb, fresh cucumber and house-made hoisin.
A tangle of fried spring onion strips adds a wonderful texture. Putting any daintiness aside, I lunge in for a mouthful of soft, then crunchy, then soft again. Myriad gorgeous flavours ping around my mouth - caramel, salty, maybe even ginger - and every now and then I get a smudge of rich, smooth foie gras crumble. To eat these is a beautiful and crazy experience.
Veal tartare in a potato skin is elegantly presented with a cluster of capsicum caviar. It's inventive and comforting, and the flavour of the potato skin steals the show.
For mains, a thick strip of lamb belly is teamed with fried chickpeas, olives and sweet apple and harissa jus. Wedges of mouth-watering braised, then chargrilled, cabbage are soft yet manage to avoid tasting overcooked. Cabbage has fat-digesting qualities, so teaming it up with lamb is all part of the plan, I gather.
A plate of flounder is remarkable. Completely hidden under a blanket of dark, crispy kale lie pan-fried fillets of flounder (oh, the lazy, luxury of serving it filleted). This dish is a thing of beauty. I have to settle for stolen forkfuls as neither of these dishes is mine.
I was attracted to the steak of the day - an eye fillet with fennel, breaded escargot and an olive mole sauce, presumably inspired by Mexico. It's tempting to say this dish wasn't to my taste or that I didn't "get" it or whatever, but the true test for me is whether my taste buds are taken back to the country that inspired it, and they weren't, so the kitchen might need to rethink this one.
Needing no such improvement are the new salads at Euro - they're lively, bursting with flavour and each has elements of pure genius.
A date loaf for dessert is rich, moist, dripping with sweet yacon syrup and it tastes 100 per cent indulgent. A coconut baba, also gluten-free, isn't quite so successful - a little too sturdy - but chocolate-coated figs impress.
And so. We came, we over-ate, we left ... feeling as light as can be. Euro's new menu really is magic. It's exciting to see one of our largest restaurants embracing the trend for intelligent food that means as well as it tastes.