From crayfish éclairs, duck sausage rolls, and a light-as-air soufflé to seats that are just at the right height and glasses that feel great in the hand...Claire Aldous and Alex Blackwood found that everything at Onslow has been thought out.
Josh Emett's CV is impressive. The multi Michelin-starred chef worked for Gordon Ramsay for over 10 years, and has been a judge on MasterChef New Zealand. He's a co-founder of Queenstown restaurants Rata, Madam Woo, Hawker and Roll and of course, Oyster Inn with his business partner, and wife, Helen Cranage. Together, their food knowledge, style and ability to put the two together is unmatched. That comes across at Onslow.
Walk through the cavernous foyer of Princes Street’s newest residential hotel, The International, past several gorgeous works of art and a waiting lounge that wouldn't look out of place in a bond villain's house, and you’ll find Josh Emett and Helen Cranage's new restaurant Onslow (named after the Earl and Countess of Onslow who owned the Grand Hotel that once stood where Onslow does now). And despite the grand entrance, the sunny and stylish spot feels neither prohibitively fancy nor shy of being something very special.
That said, it’s hard to point to one particular detail as the thing that makes it stand out. It’s more than the sum of its parts, but it’s certainly composed of well thought-out parts. If I had to sum up Onslow in one word, that word would be ‘details’…
The wine list neatly covers New Zealand and European wine regions, with sections for both ‘by the glass’ and ‘by the bottle’ wines (not to mention they use the Coravin system and have a key for organic, vegan, biodynamic and unfined wines).
The cocktails are strong (dangerously so) and delicious, divided into signature, twists on classics, timeless classics and non-alcoholic Seedlip. I tried the Bread and Butter cocktail (strictly for research of course) and it did indeed have a slippery, salty buttery quality. It tasted like, funnily enough, bread and butter.
The tiny vases on the tables contained tiny oak saplings growing from the acorns that spawned them.
The menu was short, sweet, and reasonably inexpensive - avoiding both decision fatigue and pocket fatigue. The theme of the food is hard to categorise; it’s decadent but not showy fine food, expertly flavour matched and presented in beautiful yet familiar ways. For instance, among the smaller ‘treats’ you’ll find fried bread with stracchiatella presented as little doughnuts. They are doughy, with creamy centres with the slightest smattering of Szechuan pepper on top. The dark, golden-brown, biscuity little crayfish éclairs, too, look like they could be from a very fancy bakery - but with a savoury flavour twist. “Treats” is absolutely the perfect word for this section.
The starters are substantial enough to work as a light meal on their own. The Confit Yellowfin Tuna Endive Heart is surrounded in crispy little root vegetable chips and pickled onion. It's an unusual, fresh and piquant take on fish and chips with plenty of oomph.
Order the Big Glory Bay Salmon Gravadlax and it will be brought to you on a trolley and carved fresh onto your plate from a slab cured in salt, sugar and citrus then served with pickles, the traditional Nordic accompaniment of honey mustard sauce, and rye bread. It's simple, and looks almost stark on the plate, but there isn't much room for improvement. Take a bite and any salmon fan will have to be careful not to fall out of their chair.
On the mains list, the Steamed Soy Aubergine with Mushroom Fricassée, Pickled Wakame and Kokihi is a tantalisingly juicy and saucy dish with an excellent balance of soft and firm, sweet, tart and umami...and it happens to be completely vegan.
And of course, nothing says “this restaurant is firmly down to earth and run by Kiwis” like a simple sausage roll (puff pastry, of course) that you might hope to find in the world’s finest bakery. It's actually made with duck sausage and is served with tender duck breast, kohlrabi and muscat grapes. A bakery staple done so elegantly and deliciously, we can see this sausage roll being one of Onslow's most popular dishes.
For dessert, you have an opportunity to witness a perfect soufflé - and we urge you to seize that opportunity. A light breeze and this confection might be whisked away into the air - but we don’t think you'll have much trouble eating it before that happens. Not only is it a perfect tower of rich, chocolatey fluff, the exterior is also very finely caramelised.
Another nice thing about Onslow is that it lends itself to whatever dining situation you're looking for. Claire spotted Montrechet, a favourite of hers, and when she’s feeling like treating herself might go and have a glass with either the fried bread or a crayfish éclair. I texted a group of friends to start planning an evening exploring the menu. Onslow is the sort of place that suits either, whether you have half an hour or half a day.
The truth is, that I couldn’t possibly list all the little ways in which Onslow is excellent. The souffle was as light as air, the seats were at a perfectly designed height to relax in and yet not tower over or look up at your dining companions. The cups feel nice in your hand. It’s in the middle of the city but if you choose to forget that, there’s no traffic noise to remind you. Everything has been thought out carefully by this experienced and impossibly stylish husband and wife team. So much so that my job of telling you what it’s like is a little hard to do – you really need to go and visit it for yourself to see how impeccable it all is.
9 Princes Street, Auckland CBD
Click here to book.