Sugar Club (Auckland CBD, New Zealand)
Who does not love degustation, trying out a variety of dishes focusing heavily on all of your senses, the sight (presentation), smell (aroma), taste, touch (textures) and sometimes sound, a form of high culinary art, this is the best way to experience all of a chef’s signature dishes in one sitting. We have been doing this once in a while, usually on special occasions and our most recent experience was here at the Sugar Club which is probably one of the best if not the best locations Auckland can offer where it sits majestically 53 floors above Auckland City and is the jewel in the crown at the top of the Sky Tower where it offers breath-taking views of Auckland City and the Hauraki Gulf.
I was planning to surprise my other half by trying to book this place for quite some time now but it was always fully booked on public special dates luckily for the time we were here while it was a special date for us it was not for everyone else, the only thing it was a weekend so I had to book it at least a couple of months in advance just to be sure. While booking I was already eyeing on their Tasting menu as it looks good in paper, let’s see how it pans out on real world. Sugar Club champions seasonality, combining the best in local sustainably sourced produce with the boldest flavours from around the world, they focus on flavours and texture so I know this experience will be good.
We came here for a dinner and the amazing customer service already started at 4:00PM where I received a phone call confirming my online booking that I had secured 2 months ago is confirmed. We came around 6:15PM for our 6:30PM booking, as we head down to the entrance we were cheerfully greeted by the receptionist who checked our names against their list and brought us to the lifts heading to the restaurant, we never had to press any buttons, I felt like I was back in the Philippines where a lot of the things are done for you. When we reached the 53rd floor, the staff offered to grab our coats and they securely placed it in their coat hangers. We were seated beside the windows with stunning views of the Harbour. I know what I was ordering so I told them we will have the Tasting Menu (NZ$145.00 per person) with Beverage Paring (NZ$65.00). The waiter also pointed out that they have a Plant Based Tasting menu just in case we want this variety.
Minutes later the bread arrived, a Sourdough Bread and Cultured Butter where the butter is served on a cold flat rock. It was a nice sour dough, dense with a nice bouncy bite, the sour taste was even elevated by the butter which was mildly sour too. It may not sound delicious but it was, it was enough to liven up your palate, ready for whatever comes next.
The bread was followed immediately with some snacks, I did not get any of its names but it was some sort of Crispy Seaweed with Smoked Salmon and a Savoury Pastry with sole relish and I guess abalone on top.
Amuse Bouche came quickly next in a form of this Octopus with some crispy Kale.
These starters were stunning, complex flavours and array of textures in small bites.
All of which were paired with NV Koyama Methode Traditionelle Riesling Sparkling Brut. It was crispy, mildly creamy with a bit of acidity notes from lemon and orange. Great balanced Riesling to start the dinner.
Next course was this Venison Crudo basically a tartare of venison served with puffed quinoa, egg yolk gel and smoked fat. I was never a fan of steak tartare but when I saw this on the menu before even booking a table, I said I will try it again and it might redeem itself when I get it in a nice restaurant like Sugar Club. Well it did redeem a bit as I was able to finish the whole tasting plate, still not a fan but this was much tolerable than the first time I had it. I was also thinking this will be gamey because I am not a fan of venison either, I find them gamey, but the chef did an awesome job on this one, even though it was raw the hints of gaminess for me was so subdued. It was seasoned well, nice bite on the meat, almost like hard jelly texture but still not my favourite.
This were the amazing customer service kicks in, I was asked if we did not like it. I think the waiter saw it from our face, we honestly told her that it was not just for us and she understood, she even told us that this one is an acquired taste. She then asked us if we want something else and offered a gnocchi to compensate, we did agreed and we glad we did.
Golden Kumara Gnocchi served with swiss brown mushroom, comte reduction and pine nuts, this instantly became our favourite. It was creamy but not overpowering, it was very tasty but quite delicate, the texture was pillowy soft with nice crunch from courgettes. It was a very refined dish.
This course was paired with 2019 Te Mata Elston Chardonnay, I was surprised a chardonnay was paired with a raw red meat but once you tried the wine it makes a lot of sense. It was a very crisp dry chardonnay, quite acidic and strong alcohol flavours, hints of stone fruits and tree fruits, it matched the Venison really well, it cleaned the palate on every bite on that meat.
Next up was the Fish course, snapper was the choice that day where it was served with celeriac, buttermilk foam and courgette. This one was delicate, snapper was perfectly cooked with a nice crisp skin.
It was served with 2018 Huia Sauvignon Blanc, another citrusy wine with bright floral notes of elderflower and lime blossom, the zest on this goes well with the snapper, very uplifting, quite delicious.
Going to the main meat course, the Dry-Aged Beef Fillet served with corn custard, charred leek and onion and shiitake broth. I was expecting a lot on this one because it is the main meat course but it did not deliver, while the meat looks perfectly cooked, it was quite dry not as tender as it should be, it does not have the funk of the usual dry aged beef as well. The leeks were underwhelming, no complex flavours at all and what gave it life was just the charred edges. The plating looks similar to the fish, dark dust over white thinly sliced elements, meat on the side which I felt they ran out of plating ideas.
It was accompanied by the first and only red wine for this dinner, the 2019 The Landing ‘Boathouse’ Vino Rosso, a blend of Sangiovese and Montepulciano which yields a juicy dark red fruit of sweet cherry, plum and blackberries, toasted oak can be tasted which was good with the beef, probably will go well with pasta too.
After the meat was the Pre-Dessert in the form of Grapefruit Sorbet with Cucumber, it was a refreshing nice palate cleanser, not too acidic and just right.
Then the dessert in a form of Chocolate ice cream with chilli, freeze dried feijoa on top of a blondie cake. The ice cream was rich, nice dark cocoa flavours enhanced by the chillies.
It was served with a dessert wine 2017 Pegasus Bay ‘Finale’ Sauvignon Blanc, which was rich, sweet tropical fruits, apricot marmalade and burnt caramel hints.
To top it all off was some treats in the form of Chocolate with Gold Flakes, Fruit Gel Cocoa Nibs.
We also grabbed some Freshly Squeezed Pineapple (NZ$8.00) as an additional palate cleaner.
Overall it was a mixed bag of emotions, some were good, somewhere underwhelming. What’s surprising is that the ones we really loved were not the star of the tasting menu, we love the bread, the snacks, the amuse bouche and the gnocchi. The wines were perfectly matched to the dishes, I felt that without the wine the dishes will be incomplete or would not carry itself. The service was fantastic, every element of the dish was explained, every wine was showcased correctly, where the sommelier carefully pointed out the flavour notes of each wine. It was a good night but if the food was even better than it would have been an excellent night.
The Sugar Club
Address: Corner of Federal and Victoria Streets level 53, Sky Tower, Auckland 1010, New Zealand
Phone: +64 9 363 6365