Simon Gault's Giraffe restaurant fails to live up to the hype

by Alice Harbourne / 02 February, 2018
Photography by Ken Downie
Giraffe restaurant

The interior at Giraffe in the Viaduct.

Giraffe, Simon Gault's newest venture is not our darling. Alice Harbourne reviews the Viaduct restaurant.

Simon Gault’s latest restaurant, a Viaduct all-dayer named by his daughter, is something of a darling among other restaurant critics. They reckon Giraffe showcases the former MasterChef judge at his Kiwi-bloke best. I’m not so sure.

Gault launched Giraffe after a hospitality hiatus, two years after leaving Nourish Group, the collection of top restaurants he presided over for 12 years.

Giraffe is an asymmetrical, split-level space tucked inconspicuously in a corner of the Viaduct. Obligatory waterfront-issue vinyl windbreakers clad the exterior, on cooler nights emitting the orange glow of outdoor heaters.

The fit-out evokes the lonely chill of the posh part of Omaha: a sense-dulling colour scheme of muddy browns, creams and greys with just enough marble, bronze, quilted leather and designer light fittings to feel aspirational. I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul Izzard’s brief included the words “Kiwi bach”; references are made in stretches of wooden panelling, and blackboards bearing midlife-crisis quotes about how chocolate is good and women are like cats. There are two types of bach: those filled with board games, mismatched glassware and rowdiness, and those with Bose sound systems and infinite cream carpets. Al Brown’s Depot nails the former vibe. Giraffe feels like the latter.

The Depot comparison is relevant. Brown and Gault are at similar points in their careers, with TV appearances, brand deals and product ranges under their belts. They both trade in gooey Kiwi nostalgia. They’re also commendable advocates of people at every level of the hospitality industry: their suppliers and staff are actively showcased, which is a fantastic recipe for feel-good customer service.

The problem is, Depot got there first. While Brown was planning Auckland’s first raw bar and cooking on open fires, Gault was busy importing wagyu, securing the New Zealand licence for Texturas, the molecular gastronomy brand, and cooking with water baths. He’s still doing all that, but he’s also succumbed to the provenance trend, dedicating a page on Giraffe’s website to local suppliers (alongside a disclaimer that they’re not religious about it).

A shoulder of Te Mana lamb is cooked sous-vide for three hours before a quick turn on the grill. The marbled meat glistens with dulcet horseradish gremolata, offset by a heap of peppery rocket, the oleaginous sweetness of it comforting until it’s suddenly too much. It’s one of Giraffe’s three hearty when-it’s-gone-it’s-gone hero dishes designed for two to share, supported by snacks and starters.

Book now

Giraffe restaurant food

Left, Taranaki mussels. Right, rose chocolate pudding.

From the “chef snacks” section of the menu, try the plump Taranaki mussels. They drip with a rich ginger-chipotle butter you’ll find yourself mopping up with the wild-eyed intensity of Winona Ryder in Stranger Things. The same can’t be said of the smoked kahawai butter with turmeric and garden crudités, which is bland and greasy.

Apparently taro leaf causes an allergic reaction in some people if it’s not twice-cooked. Giraffe learned the hard way, or so our waiter told us as he served our taro-leaf-wrapped hapuku. Quietly flavoured with coconut and ginger, and served with more rocket, it left us bored. The same waiter told us not to bother with the Frangelico-inspired dessert if we wanted something that tasted like Frangelico. So we opted for the rose chocolate pudding instead — to look at, a MasterChef-perfect chocolate fondant; to eat, freshly opened pot pourri.

I began to suspect a staff incentive the third time we were recommended a specific vineyard’s wines. That aside, the service was fine.

The PR blurb that accompanied Giraffe’s launch quoted Gault as saying this is a place run by “pirates” for “pirates”. I’m pretty sure Swashbucklers has that niche cornered. Really, there’s nothing new about this restaurant.

I think it comes down to what makes you feel at home, Giraffe’s stated goal. Maybe if you were seated at the pass of the open kitchen, watching Gault and his “family” of chefs work, you’d leave with the warm glow of successful marketing. But otherwise it’s dinner in a glorified marquee. I wasn’t at home. I wasn’t even at a bach. I could have been anywhere in the world.

 

Book now

Giraffe

85-87 Customs St West, Viaduct Harbour, Ph 358-1093. 

Hours: Seven days, breakfast-late.

Dinner bill: Snacks $9-$13; dishes $22-$32 and (for two) $56-$72 ($240 for suckling pig, serves 6); desserts $16-$18.

This was published in the January - February 2018 issue of Metro.



Latest

How NZ women won the right to vote first: The original disruptors & spiteful MPs
96463 2018-09-19 00:00:00Z History

How NZ women won the right to vote first: The orig…

by Vomle Springford

Is it right that while the loafer, the gambler, the drunkard, and even the wife-beater has a vote, earnest, educated and refined women are denied it?

Read more
Fémmina: The story of NZ's unsung suffrage provocateur Mary Ann Müller
96479 2018-09-19 00:00:00Z History

Fémmina: The story of NZ's unsung suffrage provoca…

by Cathie Bell

Mary Ann Müller was fighting for women’s rights before Kate Sheppard even arrived here, but her pioneering contribution to the cause is little known.

Read more
How Marilyn Waring went from political prodigy to international influencer
96505 2018-09-19 00:00:00Z Profiles

How Marilyn Waring went from political prodigy to …

by Clare de Lore

Marilyn Waring is nearing the last chapter of an account of her time as an MP, which ended abruptly with the calling of a snap election.

Read more
Ian McKellen charms his way through a documentary about his life
96472 2018-09-19 00:00:00Z Movies

Ian McKellen charms his way through a documentary …

by James Robins

Joe Stephenson’s tender documentary Playing the Part looks at McKellen's life as an actor, activist and perpetual wizard.

Read more
The Chosen Bun: A smart new burger joint opens in Stonefields
96507 2018-09-19 00:00:00Z Auckland Eats

The Chosen Bun: A smart new burger joint opens in …

by Alex Blackwood

Burgers, milkshakes and fries are not rare things to find in Auckland, so The Chosen Bun's owners were smart to be very picky about their ingredients.

Read more
The brutality experienced by the suffragettes
11636 2018-09-19 00:00:00Z Listener NZ 2015

The brutality experienced by the suffragettes

by Sally Blundell

As we mark 125 years since NZ women got the right to vote, we must remember it didn't come easily.

Read more
The case for closing prisons
96403 2018-09-18 00:00:00Z Social issues

The case for closing prisons

by Paul Little

If we want a prison system that does a better job than the current one, alternatives aren’t hard to find.

Read more
Jennifer Curtin: The feminist political scientist mixing rugby with politics
96422 2018-09-18 00:00:00Z Profiles

Jennifer Curtin: The feminist political scientist …

by Clare de Lore

Australian-New Zealander Jennifer Curtin says the lopsided nature of the Bledisloe Cup pales in comparison to the slump in transtasman relations.

Read more