Restaurant Review: At Palmer Bar, You'll Find Beef Tartare With Onion Rings
Order a cocktail at this secret spot — and try its opulent dishes designed to share
Cuisine: Modern bistro
Address: 1 Albert St, CBD
Phone: (09) 889 6970
Drinks: Fully licensed
From the menu: Goat’s cheese $12; wood-fired leeks $18; beef tartare $23; bavette steak $45; snapper $MP
It’s hard to find a secret spot in Auckland. Even the best new places tend to be tucked inside buildings you’ve visited 100 times before, so that the new concept, whatever it is, has to work twice as hard to overcome the muscle memory you have of every Heineken you’ve ever drank there.
It’s one reason Cocoro was so special when it opened — the adventure of parking on a new street and opening a new door gave you little butterflies before you even sat down.
Palmer is one of these truly fresh spaces, where the confusion of which direction to walk in once your Uber leaves only adds to the experience. Soon you find a glass sliding door with discreet signage and ascend a little staircase to a dining room which is immediately appealing: tropical plants, comfy booths, candlelit tables and bold pieces of art stacked into every free wall space.
There’s an outdoor area too, which was out of action in the winter rain but will feel like you’re on Sunset Strip once it gets warm again.
I’d booked an 8.30pm table, which may as well be midnight by local standards (in Spain you’d still be digesting lunch) but arrived feeling confident that the night was ahead of us — Palmer’s hours, after all, are “4pm until late”.
Yet we’d barely finished our cocktails when the waiter warned that the kitchen was about to close and then, that they couldn’t serve alcohol once the oven was off. Once again, “late” actually meant “as early as possible” — one bum note in an otherwise melodic evening.
But the service, while available, was excellent. Fashionably for 2022, there is plenty of space between strangers and a couple of crisply pressed waiters do a good job of getting around everybody, arriving for your next drink order the same time you swallow the final mouthful of your last one.
I strongly recommend you order a cocktail here — in fact, it’s one of the rare city spaces where you could comfortably have a nice drink and then move on to dinner somewhere else.
My friend ordered a martini, which came with plump green olives served on ice in a shot glass. Palmer didn’t invent this tradition but the fact that they’ve adopted it gives you a good indication of how carefully they’re thinking about what they serve and how.
My pisco sour was at the other end of the cocktail spectrum, a South American classic twisted by replacing the usual sweetener with purple carrot cordial.
Some of the residual carrot was used as a garnish atop the egg white float (better to look at than to eat, but whatevs) and the whole thing was scented with pineapple sage. It was ice cold, undiluted and multi-dimensional, providing just the sort of delight you should receive when you hand $20 to a bartender.
And then there is the food, which is special and delectable. The worst thing you could say about it is that it might be too rich for some tastes, but the opulence certainly suits the room.
All the dishes are designed to share, with just two options which you might call “mains” — a beautiful piece of bavette steak with celeriac puree and black garlic, and a comparatively simple snapper fillet, served with fried curry leaves and vadouvan butter, a French-Indian hybrid I haven’t encountered before but which adds fragrant indulgence to a good piece of fresh fish. I did a bit of a hatchet job dealing to the red meat and its sauces, slopping half of it over the side of the plate.
“It’s okay, everybody does it,” our waiter reassured me when I apologised for the messy paint job I’d done on his elegant table. You’ll have to bring the same gusto to the pork, which has just now replaced beef on the menu.
Each “entree” plate was worthy of quiet appreciation and enjoyment. We ordered them two by two and I think that’s the way to go — avoiding the manic buffet-style eating that becomes inevitable when you order too many sharing plates at once.
I loved the goat’s cheese, delicately piped on to the plate and served with sweet quince jelly and tapioca poppadoms, but my favourite was the leek dish — a really perfect way to showcase a sometimes pedestrian vegetable, by wood-roasting the allium to tenderness and serving it with golden raisins, hazelnuts and a vegan-friendly smoked tofu cream.
The beef tartare came with onion rings, which, well I’m not sure how well that works, but who doesn’t loves onion rings? Plus sometimes you crave something a bit more rustic — this dish, or the sauerkraut-loaded fries, might be just what you need to balance the other fiddly cheffy stuff, or to help soak up your third drink after work.
What a find! You can book a table for food or for a round of drinks, and I get the feeling it’s going to be a popular spot to extend a dinner date in the city.
At the moment you’ll have to extend it at the beginning of the evening but I’m sure that, as Palmer’s secrets start to spread, it’ll become popular enough that they won’t dare close until well into the night.
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