PLEASE NOTE : The original 1400 word review has been abbreviated to this miniature form as a website error currently does not allow the full review to be uploaded. The full review can be found on Zomato, dated August 2021.

Michael Meredith’s farewell to Dominion Road a few years ago marked the ending of an era for Auckland’s suburban fine-dining. News that he was opening a new place in Auckland CBD, with the ambience pared but the cuisine as ripely ambitious as ever, was great news for the city’s gourmands. What’s more, Mr.Morris impresses in more ways than one, with periodic charity dinners raising funds for Starship hospital, Fred Hollows Eye Foundation and Women’s Refuge.

The space inside the remarkable façade of the “Excelsior” building, standing since 1897, is a hipster-chic affair of blonde wood, compact in size, with the ambitious addition of counter-side seating where the chefs are right in front of you plating a procession of dishes. The Quail appetizer, with its clawed feet intact, was fabulous – chicken can only dream of being this tender and delicate. ‘Twas flavoured with expert restraint using pepper and curry leaf. Alas the mandarin sauce, pleasant and yet as bright as sweet mango, obliterated the taste of the quail – a puzzling saucing mistake from a Top Chef.

Service, like the erstwhile Meredith’s, is good but has no memorable personality or bonuses like a sense of humour. We chose counter-side seating both times – you trade the comfort of table seats for a ring-side view of the kitchen. We sit there sipping wine, shooting the breeze and eating fine food while the nearby chefs slog away, roasting meat over leaping fire, minding bubbling pots, dicing hillocks of vegetables, while the lead chefs out front continuously assemble the incoming food.

Snapper in NZ restaurants is as safe a choice as not one but two condoms, and the elegant snapper main course here unsurprisingly sported muted flavour. Tagliatelle was presented in voluptuous sheets, lushly creamy to the bite, the indulgence cut by lemon which should have been more of a whisper than the breeze it was. Mixed grains with crème fraiche was perfectly fine, as long you fed it to your supermodel slim girlfriend who’d be more happy with the calorie restriction than the taste (now here’s a Top Chef segment idea – Make Mixed Grains Delicious ! Mr Morris wins 4th prize for this).

Octopus was visually dominated by resplendent ribbons of unnecessary carrot, while the actual meat was reasonably tender but restricted in flavour. The Superhero to salvage all disappointments was the Chicken main, with breathtaking depth of natural umami and yet hauntingly delicate in feel and taste, a triumph of grilling over leaping flames just a little distance away from us. It was the best chicken I had in years, accentuated by cracklings of chicken skin and a cool mirin-based beurre blanc.  

  The best dessert was calamansi (Philippine lime) sorbet that nuzzled an intense chocolate ganache. This was the crucial element that ended my two meals here on a high note. Prices are reasonable for an ambitious kitchen, with appetizers in the high twenties and mains averaging forty dollars. This is a solid haute cuisine place which could still do with a tighter performance. Welcome back Michael Meredith - we missed you and Auckland will always need you. 


UPN / EarnesTaster


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