Gorilla gets grilled

A MasterChef checks on a master chef... Jax Hamilton reviews Jonny Schwass' work.
A MasterChef checks on a master chef... Jax Hamilton reviews Jonny Schwass' work.

MasterChef finalist Jax Hamilton checked out Jonny Schwass' latest restaurant.

Monkey business

Thursday night, where to go? After a 15-minute drive from one earthquake-damaged side of town to the other, Gorilla was a sight for sore eyes.

Even from the street, the restaurant was inviting, with its glass frontage, modern interior and soft lighting. A generous outdoor seating area means it's also well prepared for summer.

The name Gorilla is, I understand, a play on words, as owner Jonny Schwass' weapon of choice is the grill and he and his team like to fire it up, in and out of the kitchen. The food philosophy of "good, simple and local" is right up my alley.

I always take a little breath of anticipation before I open a restaurant door, as I want to inhale the personality as I step in, and I wasn't disappointed. An open-kitchen provided amazing aromas to whet the appetite and had us grabbing for the menus. Even though we were unstylishly early, we were expected, greeted warmly, and shown to a table for two - luckily for me, with a view of the kitchen, so I could eyeball the chefs at work.

For a bustling night, we were surprised to find only two waitstaff, but they were highly capable. A cold bottle of water, glasses and menus appeared swiftly (a big tick from me). The other guests were a mix of family diners with children, groups of well-decked-out guys supping from the vast beer menu, larger tables of girls on the pinot, and a few couples bent over the menus in anticipation.

We didn't have to wait long before our waitress was over to take us through the tapas and general menu, which included plenty of starters and an item called "Feed Me Seymour", allowing the chef to decide the best dishes of the day. The mains offered a choice of beef, chicken, venison, pork and lamb, with flounder as fish of the day.

We were impressed when our flushed waitress committed our entire order to memory. To start, we decided to share a plate of the pickled and marinated vegetables with goat's cheese whip, along with the spicy, sticky chicken wings with pickled cucumber.

For mains, I opted for the grilled flounder with homemade tartare sauce and a side order of rocket, pear and parmesan salad. My partner chose the beef tri-tip steak, mustards with rocket salad and a side of roasted beetroot and goat's cheese.

After what seemed like a couple of minutes, the marinated vegetables arrived - delicate, delicious, but requiring the balance of the chicken. Twenty minutes later, our second plate was served - lamb croquettes! Perhaps our waitress should have used pen and paper. The manager was extremely apologetic and offered the plate free of charge.

Waiting for our mains gave me a chance to ogle the two chefs - both bald, bespectacled and bearded - in action. With only a tiny kitchen space from which to prep, cook and plate, their precise, but very efficient, service was impressive. Full on and hard work, with an audience to boot - bravo!

After another 20 minutes, our mains arrived, along with our much-awaited chicken wings! My whole flounder, cooked to perfection and seasoned to within an inch of its life, went down without touching the sides - nom.

I tried a sly sliver of my partner's steak and had to agree it was perfect. The beetroot was extremely moreish, sweet, tangy and a perfect match with the steak, peppery rocket and mustard. However, both meals seemed a little out of proportion, with us both wishing we had ordered more sides.

The staff remained attentive with more water, offers of drinks and a table presence - nice.

The dessert menu - salted caramel vanilla icecream sundae, white chocolate brûlée, apple and boysenberry crumble, sticky date pudding or chocolate fondant - was very, very sexy! Although exceedingly tempted, we decided to go without.

Any new kid on the block takes a little time to walk, then run, and Gorilla is no exception. It's a great concept, ethos and vision. Get yourself down there and enjoy the experience.

Where: 2 Waterman Place, Ferrymead.
Service: Be prepared for a bit of a wait.
Prices: Mid to high dollar range.
Ambience: Cool, laid-back and modern.