Put aside any apprehensions you may have about dining among the clothing racks at Rodd & Gunn’s newest dining concept, The Lodge, because the two – retail shop and dining room – are neatly divided, split by separate doors. The one on the left opens into The Lodge: dark and broody with accented blond timber, a black ceiling and more than one marbled bar counter. You could see business deals being finalised at the back table over plates of bloody $85 steak.
Despite the apparent sophistication, I somehow managed to order a drink for children. “We do have a non-alcoholic cocktail... on the kids’ menu.” A pause. “It’s really yummy.”
I’d expected the non-boozy selection to be bad – sophistication, remember – but I’d never been shunted over to the kids’ menu before. Luckily, this was the only service-related slip-up of the night. Our server was so good, it felt at times we were telepathically linked; my water glass never sat empty.
The woolly sheepskin thrown over the back of my chair made me think there would be a good offering of game meat on the menu, but there was hardly any – I was surprised there wasn’t venison, at least. Overseen by The Musket Room’s Matt Lambert, the selections were neat and safe, covering exactly what you’d expect of a restaurant that looked like this: oysters, pasta, mains and meats. Weirdly, there was a burger, on a dinner menu that really didn’t need a burger.
I didn’t get the burger. The oysters came first; the best were a couple of naturals with horseradish granita. “Have that on its own first,” our server said of the granita. “It’s amazing.” I really liked it. Spicy sorbet, essentially – a gentle kick to the taste buds. Of all the night’s bites, it was the horseradish granita that stuck with me the most, maybe because it was the most exciting.
But food doesn’t have to be exciting to be good; in among the deluge of shiny new openings, that’s easy to forget. Executing familiarity well is tricky business, too, because, I mean, all of us have reference points for a sirloin steak with red-wine sauce. There’s nowhere to hide.
And there’s really nowhere to hide in an entrée-sized portion of fettucine, a vongole served with clams out of the shell. The pasta was springy with a nice bite, even if the sauce was too acidic, all white wine. It was an apt entrée, though, for the pan-seared grouper that arrived after it – dots of sauce, curled ribbons of zucchini, little sea plants for texture that added little taste but were fun. Flavours were subdued – the crux of the dish lay with how the grouper was cooked and seasoned, and that was done near perfectly. It did feel a little mind-boggling that this dish was $38; if it was the only thing I ate that night, I think I’d have left and walked down the street to McDonald’s. Instead, I ate some of my friend’s sirloin steak with red-wine sauce, cooked on the charcoal grill. I was bereft, because it was better than my main, with about five times the flavour, tender pink meat melting away in between my teeth with the smokiness of charcoal. This is exactly why sharing plates are better, I thought.
As I sulked quietly about this, I noticed the table across from me was a family affair, what looked like three generations having a happy reunion. The Lodge really is kind of a perfect mall restaurant: pleasantly inoffensive and suitably impressive to parents. No sharing plates. Old-school but modern.
Old-school but modern is perhaps the perfect moniker for my dessert – dark chocolate mousse and salted caramel ice cream nestled in chocolate soil, with little jagged pieces of white-and-dark meringue. To be honest, this was delicious – entirely uncomplicated and maybe identical to something I’d eaten four years ago at another Auckland restaurant, and also something I ate last week, but who cares?
Despite getting feelings of déjà vu, I appreciate that The Lodge know exactly who they are. Corporate business people will drop in from the mammoth PwC tower behind them for long lunches and slow after-work wines; moneyed families will organise birthdays here; yuppie couples will save up a little to treat themselves to a fancy date night. I think it’s great for all that, especially when the food is tasty and the service so good.
Menu: Entree $15-$29; main $25-45; sides $10-$13
Where: Commercial Bay, central Auckland