Masu – Auckland, New Zealand

Nic Watt’s Masu at Sky City Grand has been bestowed with plenty of accolades over the years, including Metro’s Restaurant of the Year 2014, and currently holds two Cuisine Good Food chef hats. To be honest, I was never sure whether it would live up to the hype – pre-launch it even had it’s own TV series highlighting Chef Nic Watt’s Japanese cooking and recipes. Not a bad way to get word out there. Being part of the Sky City Grand and their Federal St development of high profile eateries doesn’t hurt either. Of course you still have to follow through with great food…let’s not forget previous Federal St neighbours such as Luke Dallow’s Red Hummingbird that failed to fly despite it’s prime position.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve finally arrived to see what all the fuss is about, if not a tad late to the party. I’ve visited Gusto and Depot twice a piece, Bellota many times over the years, and even Federal St Delicatessen (why this particular establishment is on the Metro Top 50 I have no idea). Masu is the last spot on the bingo card. I’m a big fan of Japanese food, but Masu always seemed to situate itself at the very pricy end of the cuisine in New Zealand – but when I spotted the new Sunday ‘Nichiyo’ Brunch at $68 a head, I thought it was a pretty good reason to drag myself and some co-tasters along for a culinary expedition of the Japanese kind.

Now this Sunday brunch is not quite the same thing as a Dubai brunch – don’t get too excited! You have unlimited access to a selection of buffet offerings and a choice of main dish per person, followed by a dessert platter to share for the table (beverages are not included). It’s nice to see NZ starting to catch on to the global brunch movement that I’ve seen is gathering momentum in Hong Kong and Singapore. Apparently it even won 2015 Metro ‘Best Special-Occasion Brunch’ – though I’m not sure there is currently much competition in this category! The Nichiyo brunch is a fab excuse to gather some friends and have a long leisurely catch up over food that’s not just typical bacon-and-eggs brunch fare. It runs from 11-3pm though two hours worth will probably sate you given there’s no free flowing booze here.

To kick off proceedings we selected an old and very reliable favourite, the Kumeu River Pinot Gris, from an admittedly very well curated selection of NZ wines available by the bottle. I like that they have broken away from the Antipodes water trend that you see at every restaurant and have their own selection – the award winning Deep Horizon water. It was soft and sweet and I was absolutely annihilating glasses of it (the water that is!).

To the buffet selection – plenty of sushi and sashimi on offer (and they kindly made me some vegetarian sushi that was ready and waiting when I arrived), some interesting salads, deep fried fish, udon, tofu and seafood tacos. The tofu was simmering in a rich soy based sauce, and together with the udon and plethora of spices and seasonings this made for a tasty and warming dish on what had turned into a very rainy and stormy Auckland summer Sunday. The salads were interesting, one in particular stood out – kumara, bacon and a mayonnaise type dressing. Delicious, only wish I had more stomach capacity to dedicate to it but with so much on offer I had to limit myself to just tasting a couple of pieces. Their edamame, green bean and pink grapefruit salad was light and refreshing if not outstandingly tasty. They also showcased their twist on a caesar salad, with squid ink croutons substituted for the regular variety, but it didn’t really fit with the whole offering and seemed a bit out of place. The buffet section overall would delight sashimi fans (my husband made a serious attempt at filling every nook and cranny of his stomach with the delicious salmon) and the seafood lovers at my table said it was definitely enough to satisfy. For me (not eating seafood) it didn’t really excite. So that brings us to…

The main event! Now we’re talking…meat! Or hey, more seafood if that’s your thing. Plenty on offer here no matter your preference.  View the full Nichiyo Brunch menu here

What I tasted:

KOBUTA NO LIBU NO YAWARAKA NIKOMI – master stock baby back pork ribs and sansho salt
KANKOKUFU KOHITSUJI – lamb cutlets, gochujang, pickled cucumber and carrot

also ordered by our table:

MADAI HARAPE-NYO – Leigh long line snapper, jalapeno and ginger dressing, crisp vegetable salad
SUGI-ITA-YAKI – cedar roasted ora king salmon teriyaki, pickled cucumber, sesame

Let me start with my favourite dish of the meal – the master stock baby back pork ribs. I’m a sucker for ribs, and though I prefer mine fall off the bone juicy and tender, these were cooked technically to perfection – tender but firm enough that you could take a bite and leave teeth marks in the rib without the rest of the meat falling off the bone. Delicious!

The lamb cutlets, of which there were three, gave an intensely powerful seasoned flavour when you bit into them – super tender also. Dip them into the spicy sauce that accompanied if you dare – it’s got a kick and a half! Very flavourful, but not sure I loved the flavour profile altogether, it was almost a bit full on with the meat and the sauce fighting for centre stage.

Now for the verdict on the fish dishes from my dining compatriots – apparently the cedar roasted ora king salmon was spot on and very much enjoyed (and the cedar plank very much admired). The snapper however caused much frustration at the table – apparently the jalapeño totally overpowered the flavour of the fish and they would have preferred a more delicate sauce with the jalapeño omitted.

Almost out of room, we had luckily saved a little stomach space as we were forewarned to expect the arrival of a dessert platter to complete the brunch, the components of which are chosen by the kitchen. Our dessert platter contained the following – (please excuse the romaji menu titles…as someone who studied Japanese most of my childhood I find these names a tad cringeworthy. But this is actually how they are titled on the menu!)

FENELU KE-KI – fennel cake, blackcurrant tapioca, soy chai ice cream, aloe sake gel
SHIROMISO PABUROBA – shiro (white) miso pavlova, drunken pineapple, guava chilli sorbet
LAIMU CHI-ZU KE-KI – steamed lime cheesecake, yoghurt shiso sorbet, wasabi namelaka, black sesame
AISUKURI-MU NO MORIAWASE – selection of ice creams and sorbet

Ok so first things first – this platter that arrives at our table is certainly a show stopper. It will no doubt draw gasps from your fellow diners, and be prepared to just watch the desserts slowly melt while everyone takes photos of the delicacies in their natural habitat. Created to fit the number of diners in your party, each table receives a bespoke arrangement of desserts that will have you amazed and stickybeaking at what the table next door is being presented. Ours, for four, was nestled atop a giant ceramic bowl full of ice. A neighbouring table of six was presented theirs in a carved out half log shape that spanned the table. Pretty freaking cool, right?

Pretty freaking cool indeed – if only the taste matched the high level of presentation. Almost from the first spoonful my expectations started rapidly dropping. Save for one passable dessert, this was almost a total strikeout. Either bland or bordering on soapy and inedible, my palate was often left confused and in some cases totally repulsed by the strange flavours and the need to seemingly add wasabi to everything. The dessert that almost was a winner was the shiromiso pavlova, drunken pineapple and guava sorbet. All three items were totally delicious on their own, but didn’t become more than the sum of their parts when eaten together. In fact, the guava sorbet totally overpowered the shiromiso pavlova. Judging by more successful Japanese desserts I’ve had at other establishments, one strong Japanese accent in a dessert is enough for me to give proceedings a twist but still remain classic enough to be palate pleasing. Next time I’d be sticking to the savoury side of the menu.

Outside of the food, one interesting touch to this brunch was that they had turned their private dining room into a kiddie sanctuary – a television playing cartoons, soft foam tiles laid on the ground and toys a plenty. Even the intricate decorative kimonos had been rolled up on the walls, far away from sticky little fingers. This is a great bonus if you have kids. When the rain is pouring, is there a better way to spend a Sunday in Auckland? Fingers crossed there will be more brunch offerings on offer to explore when I next return to the City of Sails.

Masu by Nic Watt - SKYCITY Grand Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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