33 Queens Wharf
Ph: 460 9410
Open Mon-Fri 11.30am-late,
Price range of mains: $26-$34
Wine list: 4/5
Cost: $144 for two (excluding wine)
Two and a half years is a dangerous age for any new restaurant bar, but especially one such as Foxglove, which rests its reputation upon novelty.
Now that the barflies of Wellington have marvelled at the plant wall, tittered at the fake hunting trophies, and walked through the Narnia wardrobe door to explore the secret spaces, they're probably yawning and asking what's next.
Actually, chaps, dinner.
Admittedly, Foxglove is not the first place that might spring to mind for a slap-up meal, since you don't expect fine dining at a pub. But then, Foxglove is no ordinary pub, in the sense that a million dollars went into the fit-out.
The dining area is designed to catch the uninterrupted harbour views at the northern end of the building, its white table linen wordlessly warning bar drinkers to keep out.
Such formality also sets the tone for the delicately wrought modern French cuisine from chef Joshua Dodd.
This being the holiday season, there were no pedestrians out on the waterfront save our tourist industry's new demographic - Australians.
Three parties of Aussies surrounded us at Foxglove.
One explained to the waiter that they would never have come here on the basis of any guidebook, but had been attracted by the menu posted in Foxglove's window box.
Bravo! Reading the list of dishes, I too wanted to order everything in sight.
Much to the disgust of my guest, a vegetarian chef, I opted for the beef tartare.
"Looks like Jimbo's," she jibed, in sly reference to the coarser than usual mincing of the raw beef, surmounted by a crown of accompaniments from heaven: matchstick strips of white anchovy, smoked cippolini onion, popped capers, cornichon and a mop-top of green leaves. In the centre was buried treasure - a truffled raw yolk.
The crayfish bisque was silken smooth, nicely coloured, subtly piqued with chilli, the very essence of crustacean. All the advertised garnishes were there: a prawn, a scallop and a mussel. As a bonus, there was one of the biggest tuatuas I've seen in my life (it was almost a baby toheroa!) and a diamond clam from Cloudy Bay - plump, juicy and packed full of flavour.
My guest relished the "Twice baked smoked goat's curd souffle, grilled courgette, rocket, almond, green olive salad", conceding a lot more care was being taken over the presentation here than at her own place of work.
Declaring this souffle delicious but too rich to finish, she handed it over to me. I've never quite got twice-cooked souffles, which are so often dry and leathery, but this was pleasantly moist and soft.
Dessert also looked good, and tasted even better: "Buffalo yoghurt & ginger mousse, candied fennel, pine nut praline, blackberry & rose sorbet."
Being typically Australian - friendly and chatty - our fellow diners didn't mind being engaged by the waiting staff. That was just as well, I decided, listening to the over-confident young waiter serving mum, dad and the kids at the next table.
Nodding at their copy of Lonely Planet New Zealand's South Island on the table, he adopted the manner of a tour bus driver over the intercom, dispensing an unsolicited traveller's tip each time he delivered a dish. Later I heard him relating his life story to the third party of Aussies over the way.
Dining out is such a lottery, both in terms of what you order, and who you get as a waiter.
I was glad we had been assigned the discrete, thoroughly professional Stephanie, who kept one hand firmly pinned behind her back as she set about pouring us water and wine, without feeling the need to explain what gravlax was, or to tell us the name of the truckie who had delivered our lamb to the works.
ONE THING YOU SHOULD TRY
Slow cooked lamb rump, braised shoulder pithivier, heirloom carrots; $34
The carrot puree was deliciously scented with cardamom, there was a generous puddle of yummy sticky jus, the lamb was pleasingly pink in the middle. By way of contrast, there was braised shoulder inside the accompanying pithivier - two discs of puff pastry, scalloped around the fringes and decorated with spirals, just as you would find at a Michelin- starred French restaurant.
- The Dominion Post