The first thing you'll notice as you approach Mr Morris is the huge, three story high Shane Cotton mural that adorns the whole side of the building. The painting, featuring maori designs on Greek amphoras, kraters and hydria is a work commisioned by Britomart, and it was a happy accident that it matches the vibe of Mr Morris so neatly. You'll see those vases repeated in corporeal, ceramic form about the restaurant (some with plants and water and some without). But the pared back, clean yet cleverly detailed details are not limited to just vases.
The doorhandles of the main entrance are brass Samoan fans (a nod to Michael's birthplace) and are also depicted on the menu and the paper on the plates the snacks arrive on. The rustic brick-and-plaster walls give an ancient, well-loved feeling to the space while the blonde oakwood furnuture and finishings, feel light and cool. The subtle forest-green ceiling has a cool feeling like a canopy of trees. Even the salt bowls are riverstones cut to shape, adding atmosphere to the already pretty natural feeling setting.
The kitchen is a stage-like centrepiece, so you can see Michael and head chef Fabio Bernardini who you might recognise from Michael's previous restarant, Meredith’s, which closed in 2017. You can watch the chefs preparing meat, shelling peas and plating dishes - so a spot at the bar is essential on a solo visit.
Venture through the unassuming door marked 'Mrs Morris' and down the stairs to find the private dining room of the same name. It's moody, curtained and darker than the main dining area, giving an intimate feeling to the already cosy setting that seats only around 25 compared to Mr Morris' 70.
The menu is short, with no more than 5 dishes in each category and we felt a definite absence of that long-menu-induced decision fatigue. But in that neat little menu is a great deal of flavour combinations that warrant a second look - or a second bite.
Smoked Eel, Egg, Salmon Roe
The flavours are intuitively designed and it shows: on the snacks list, hidden in the form of pain au chocolat, black pudding mingles with the bitterness of dark chocolate. The two go together incredibly (surprisingly) well. There are little eclairs of smoked eel, egg and salmon roe. We watched the Potato Bread sail past us on its way to someone else, golden and puffy with a generous knob of butter and we wished we had gotten that too.
The entrees feature similarly imaginitive combinations, a whole half quail is served on a soft, zesty and aromatic mandarin puree that might steal the show if the quail itself wasn't so intruigingly served with its little claw outstretched... Though there are those that won't be as charmed by that as we were. The paua (pictured at the top of this page) has a delicious sink-your-teeth-in factor: both the paua itself and the rice gnocchi are chewy in a way pescatarians might miss. But this dish actually has it more than meat does, as well as sweet, smoky charred corn and tiny, juicy shards of iceplant.
Pork Collar, Pineapple, Kohlrabi
The mains are generous, and unlike the entrees (which you'll want all to yourself), can happily be shared. Claire had the pork collar and noted that the pineapple goes beautifully with it, and that the kohlrabi was a delight and more dishes should feature it. I had the lamb, which was beautifully soft and served in a smoky tomato sauce.
Lamb Rump, Tomato, Coriander
Michael's specialty dessert also makes an appearance: Pani Popo. It's impossibly Samoan bread with coconut in the centre, served on a plate drizzled with coconut cream alongside bitingly sour passionfruit ice cream. You'll swear the passionfruit has been plucked fresh off the vine that minute. It's a perfect match to the soft and sweet Pani Popo.
Pani Popo, Passionfruit
In the Berry, Lychee and Lemongrass dessert, the frangrant lemongrass and refreshing lychee make the berries pop. The dish is dotted with firm cubes of blueberry mochi too - adding to the textural intrigue of the dish as well as the taste.
The drinks list, spanning from Central Otago Pinot Noir to Chenin Blanc to Swartland, is truly extensive: a journey round the world in wine, with unusual grapes like savagnin and gamay. They have not only a 'by the glass' section but a 'half bottle section', and the liquor list, to my delight, includes a mezcal section. Of course, fans of Michael's previous establishment, Meredith's, that closed in 2017, will remember his affinity for Tattinger - here they are serving Champange Taittinger Les Folies de la Marquetterie by the glass..
Consistently, across all we tasted here, we found ourselves oohing and aahing - "try this with that", "oh wow I wouldn't have put that with that but they are divine together!" We don't imagine a meal here could ever be boring and it's a menu we can't wait to return to try more of: the Salted Caramel Whisky Sour; the Cabbage, Hollandaise and Celery and the Clams, Aguachile, Avocado and Green Strawberries are all on the top of our list for next time.
We did note that none of the mains are vegetarian. However, we suspect that won't be an issue, on a menu of so many plant based choices...particularly because of all the dishes on the menu, the battered Salt and Vinegar Oyster Mushrooms stuck in our minds - briny, vinegary, crunchy and liberally peppered - they're the way that fish and chips taste in a very good dream. When you're next in Britomart, make sure you get a plate of them with a glass of Taittinger Les Folies de la Marquetterie and let the taste of the salty batter bring out the minerality of the champagne and revel in the texture of them both. It'll be the best thing you do all week.
Michael Meredith at Mr Morris