Thursday, November 1, 2012


We went to Palate on a not-quite spur of the moment jaunt.  Booked a day in advance, for a weekend evening, and found ourselves in a comfortable two person table in the lower area, looking out over the deck. It wasn't yet quite warm enough for outside eating, but in a few weeks the opportunities for snacking and drinking on the deck here will be pretty fine.  The drinks list looked, from my cursory perusal, as though it would hold up well to such usage.  (Cursory perusal follows from the pre-made decision to go all in on a tasting menu with matched wines).

Now, as we go through this, I have to warn you that the details of the courses are a little fuzzy. We did not have a printed menu for the degustation, and course by course, the description quality varied.  One thing that seems common to New Zealand restaurants is the absence of (for want of a better term) a professional waitstaff-class.  The waiters, even at high end places, are generally casuals, doing the job for a while while learning to be something else.  For high end food to be presented correctly, you need people for whom being waitstaff is itself the goal.  For that to happen, you need to pay your waitstaff more than they get in NZ.  So while the service was attentive and enthusiastic, it lacked... polish.  This manifested in an often incomplete description of what was actually on our plates at any given time.

7 course degustation, plus an amuse-bouche to begin.

The amuse-bouche: Oyster shooters, with rock sugar, coriander, sake, soy, ginger...  Subtle flavouring, with the taste of the oyster coming through strongly at the back end.  One of the few times I have not felt like I would have rather had the oyster alone.  Good.

1.  Seared yellowfin tuna. Chili jam, dehydrated citrus, calamari & coconut-based salad.  Flavours meshed well; there was something sub-continental in the crusting on the tuna, which blended with the coconut flavour of the salad excellently.

2.  Gurnard, kahawai ball, kumara.  Melting gurnard, strongly flavoured kahawai topping, a cauliflower puree onto which the kumara was placed. Coriander pesto.

3.  Rabbit, scallop, black pudding. The rabbit was a rolled leg, crispy skin, well spiced.  Black pudding was warm and rich, and brilliantly offset the scallops.  I understand, visually, only giving us that white of the scallop, but I always feel a little sad when I don't get to eat it all.  Pea puree offset both components nicely, and the smear thereof was enough to serve for the whole dish.

4.  Duck, lentils du puy.  Some sort of tasty shredded duck meat, wrapped in a wonton wrapper and deep fried.  Indian style spicing on the duck meat/wrapper.  Celeriac puree, I believe, and lentils du puy, which were perhaps ever so slightly grainier than they should have been. Minor concern.

5.  Polenta, beef fillet.  The polenta was crisped nicely, firm and tasty.  A 63 degree egg, cooked for 90 minutes, on top of that.  Field mushrooms and a delicious slice of rare fillet rounded off the course.

6.  Local Cheeses.  'Over the moon' cheeses. Blue, soft (triple cream brie) and cheddar.  The triple cream brie in particular was great.  Pear and apple, drizzled in honey, and both crispbread and toasts.

7.  Rhubarb mess, tamarillo sorbet, burnt honey and yoghurt pannacotta, floss.  Not too sweet, the tamarillo sorbet in particular was a wonderful touch.

I was completely convinced by both the food and the chosen wine matches.  This degustation offers good value, $145/head with matched wines, $90 without.  It was well timed, not pushy, and the venue was comfortable.

20 Alma St, Hamilton Central
(07) 834 2921

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