Head to downtown Auckland, go up two escalators inside retail and foodie mecca Commercial Bay, make your way over to the far corner of the food court and you’ll find yourself in New York. Sort of.
Saxon + Parole has a twin sister of the same name in New York, where Michelin-starred executive chef Brad Farmerie is redefining the steak house. Inside, the Auckland venue looks like a scene from a New York movie, all slick dark green tiling and vintage-looking wood, cloud-like light fixtures and droplet-style chandeliers, all designed by AvroKO Hospitality Group. There are images of Saxon + Parole, the horses for which the restaurants were named, on the walls (and also on the label of the restaurants’ own wine), just like in the New York eatery.
The space is divided up into nooks (I love a nook) – a wine cave; a mezzanine, where private events are to be held; and tables tucked in by the bar. There’s also the tiny secret, intimate Lorillard Room, with a towering ceiling, Martini service and a record player. It does feel very New York… until you gaze out the window and the view of the Waitematā Harbour anchors you once more in reality.
And the restaurant’s harbourside location is a blessing; as I walk in and say hello to chef de cuisine Logan Coath, he excitedly shows me a box of produce fresh off the ferry from Waiheke. He knows a producer whose salad greens he rates so highly, he just had to have them in his kitchen.
It’s a similar story with a lot of the food you’ll find at Saxon + Parole. Logan can and will talk you through each ingredient and its individual provenance – from the long-line caught fish that only yesterday was swimming in the sea you can see from your table, to the Silver Fern Farms steak and venison (Logan and all his staff have taken a tour to see how they do things). The pancetta is made in collaboration with Hannah Miller - aka ‘A Lady Butcher’ - who butchers the pig so there is only 150 grams of waste from an 80kg animal. Once again, Logan not only knows where the pigs are raised, he’s also hung out with them on their free-range farm. It’s important to him that every ingredient on the menu is ethically sourced, and that his customers know where their food is from and how the animals have been treated.
At his last restaurant, The Archive on Waiheke Island, he got to visit every single producer who supplied ingredients for his menu. He hasn’t yet managed that at Saxon + Parole, but he’s getting there.
As we tour the kitchen, he introduces me to the oyster bar, where shellfish from Te Matuku, Te Kouma, Mahurangi, Kaipara and Waikare sit on ice (Logan says they’re like his children). And why have a list of all these different oysters? "well why have a list of all the different wines?" says Logan. Even though they are all Pacific oysters (the ‘frilly’ sort you find everywhere in New Zealand except for Bluff, where they are flat, bottom-dwelling dredge oysters), they’ve been cultivated in different conditions. Some are grown on ropes, some on the flat sea floor, some tossed around and made smooth in the rough sea. This means each looks and tastes different from the last. For example, a Matakana oyster is briny and strong, whereas Mahurangi ones are sweeter and a little more delicate. They are different enough that you can (and should) do a tasting of all six). It's educational.
Logan’s emphasis on impeccable provenance makes each plate a sort of junction where delicious, ethically sourced ingredients come together. And, while this might sound odd given that it’s a steak house, I urge you to bring your vegetarian friends because the menu also caters beautifully to them. The crudités include the best carrot I have ever eaten, pickled in yuzu and served alongside grilled radicchio; a particularly smoky babaganoush (Brad’s recipe); and fresh veges from beetroot, lettuce, and crispy kale to kūmara and sunchoke chips.
In regard to the mushroom mouse, I actually have to apologise to Logan because I asked him, only half joking, if he’d come to my house and make the smoky, jammy and richly umami spread so I could have it on my toast every morning. It’s made with Saxon + Parole’s own whisky, Parole and is a lot like a mushroom pâté. Back in New York, it has apparently been dubbed the Vegetarian Foie Gras. Honestly, a hard agree from me.
Also on the menu you'll find a decadent list of pies (special mention to the caramelised and delicious pecan pie); buffalo ricotta gnudi; the NY Saxon burger featuring candied bacon and a crayfish and kahawai broth. I could go on: the cocktails pack a punch and a half and the wine list is a great way to travel the world without leaving your seat - but you'll have to just see for yourself. Saxon + Parole is well worth making the trip downtown for. And tellingly, the first person I texted saying ‘you have to check this place out’ was a vegetarian.
Saxon + Parole