Last Friday I went to Auckland, to play a gig wearing one of my many hats - this time, playing guitar and singing BVs with my buddy Craig Terris (his album is out next month). This was good news - I like a good trip out of town, and, we were to be playing a gig at a venue I had heard good things about - The Golden Dawn, on the corner of Richmond and Ponsonby Roads. And, unusually for a gig venue, I had heard good things about their food!
Food at bars - let's face it, often not great. When you play gigs, you resign yourself to the fact that the food on offer, if there even is any, is not likely to be much chop - the catering is not always by Ruth Pretty. But I was optimistic about Golden Dawn for two reasons.
First, it is my friend Simon Farrell-Green's (about whom, more on Friday) local, and he rates it, and he knows a thing or two about what's good to eat. And second, I knew a couple of people involved in the GD setup - promoter, good-time guy and all-round bon-vivant Matthew Crawley, and former Matterhorn partner Sam Chapman.
And so, to celebrate my whistlestop visit to Auckland, we (me and the rest of the band) opted to chomp our way through much of their menu.
The place looks cool. It is, in the crudest possible terms, a bit like the Matterhorn by way of Mighty Mighty, with a soupcon of Melbourne rustic pop-up restaurant/bar vibe. It seeks to be all things to all people - local watering hole, gig venue, retro-disco niteclub, quiet spot for an afternoon drink - and, you know what, I reckon it bloody well nearly succeeds.
Amusingly, given my recent post about communal dining, this is very much food in the small plates/sharesies stylee. Oop. Get over yourself, chummy - share with your bandmates! It certainly helps that two of our party are vegetarian - especially when things like a pulled pork sandwich and beef brisket are being mentioned. It helps that I am only going to have to share them with one other person. HA!
The first dish to make it to the table is a wooden board with three lovely wodges of Welsh rarebit - basically, fancy cheese on toast that has cheese mixed through with seasoning and a little egg, with a bottle of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce on the side. This is perfect pub grub - the sort of thing you might whip up yourself upon returning from the boozer with a skinful, were you not such a lazy drunken arse. The bread is good and dense and flavourful. It's fancy cheese on toast. It's great.
We then try a dish that would be close to my favourite of the evening: Green Toast - a couple of slabs of toasted potato bread, topped with smashed broad beans (oh how I have loved broad beans since I learned they could, and should, be peeled), beetroot, walnuts and parmesan. There is a hint of chilli and a little flatleaf parsley - it all tastes as fresh and light and vibrant as it looks.
Next comes the Krokety - potato balls with corn, coriander and paneer, a sort of Dutch-via-Indian dish that is served with a slice of lemon and some fairly glorious, turmeric-laden mayo/aioli - again, light and tasty and great with a glass of their (excellent) beer.
Next up is a straight-up chunk of good chorizo - step down, vegetarian bandmates, we've got this one. It is excellent - quite dry, full of smoked paprika flavour and a good mix of flesh and fat that contributes to an almost silky finish.
I generously bestow most of the garlic bread upon the vegetarians - a couple of slices of toasted bread with a disc of butter, topped with smoked, roasted garlic. I said most of it - I have a duty to you, dear reader - again, very good.
I have been saving myself for the next couple of dishes - the pulled chipotle pork roll with lime aioli, and the smoked brisket with cornmeal and goat's cheese porridge.
The two most profoundly meaty dishes on the menu, and another two of the best - the pork roll is sweet and unctuous and succulent, the sourdough-type roll is chewy and perfectly textured, and it has some briny, pickled cucumber on the side that sets it off perfectly, while the brisket has that falling-apart quality you get with very slow-cooked braised cheaper cuts of meat, and the "porridge" is salty and savoury and terrific together with the meat.
After this bounty I am, it must be said, a bit stonkered, so I probably don't really do justice to the two remaining dishes: Mama's cornbread, spicy eggplant cilento and chickpeas topped with labne - again, my gift to the vegetarians - it's good though. I then eat slightly more than I should have of the pork belly and butterbeans with sharp cheddar and black sausage (I would love it if I were still remotely hungry). And then I waddle toward the stage (the gig went great, thanks for asking).
Look, this is what I reckon - this is immaculately conceived, contemporary and deliciously eatable pub food that ranges from light and tasty to dense, hearty and filling. If you were remotely trepidatious about eating "pub" food, the grub at The Golden Dawn may just change your mind.
And one other thing: the quality of the food is rendered all the more remarkable by the fact that it is prepared offsite; the bar lacks a proper kitchen, and the food is simply heated to order. Also - no chips! Don't get me wrong - chips are (or can be) awesome, but you really don't need to eat them every time you have a pint.
My sincere thanks to our gracious host Mr Crawlie, our server Kate and bar manager Nick for an excellent evening - and crikey, Auckland, that's some bar, and bar food you've got there (even if I reckon you can tell how cool the venue you've just played at is by how many Shortland Street cast members show up - after you've finished playing).
Have you eaten at Golden Dawn? Your verdict? If you've only been there for a drink, do you think you will try the food now? And where is the best pub food you have ever had?