On a recent work trip to Auckland I was lucky enough to stay in the Sofitel. The hotel is as you’d expect for over $300 NZ per night and has all of the luxuries of a five star hotel. Including a fine dining restaurant. So, I decided to try Lava Dining, to see if the food would live up to the hotel’s five star rating. The bonus was that I didn’t have to walk more than two minutes from my room, so no struggles needed with a map of Auckland.
Lava Dining serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s at its best at night when the mood lighting and ‘Lava walls’ (that’s what the staff call them) add to the atmosphere. Most of the tables have views (or glimpses) of Auckland Harbour, and some also face onto the open kitchen.
Scott Brown, the executive chef at Lava Dining, sources the best produce that’s in season and designs the menu around this. When I read this I knew I’d come back on my second night.
What’s striking about the wine list is the domination of New Zealand wine, particularly in the whites where only a handful of non Kiwi bottles are offered. It’s good to see a big hotel brand, that attracts tourists from across the globe, not being afraid to showcase local wine. On this occasion given it was a work trip and I was dining alone I stuck with water.
Back to the food. Firstly the complementary bread. This is not just any bread but rather it’s a truly impressive selection of three different types of locally baked bread – a sourdough roll, a wholemeal roll and a baguette. It’s served straight from the oven with room temperature butter. It really does taste as good as it looks. I reckon they could get away with charging for a second helping.
The menu at Lava is short but sufficient, with around six entrees and six main dishes. So you won’t spend half an hour deliberating over what to choose. Over two nights dining at Lava I tried two different dishes from the main menu and one side.
On the first night I had the lamb. Elaborately described on the menu as you’ll see below.
The lamb is cooked medium rare and I found it very tender. I was slightly disappointed by the amount of lamb for the price. It couldn’t have been more than 100g. This was especially so because I was ravenous after deliberately staying away from the in-flight lunch and the waitress said to me that it was a good portion size. Hanging said that the whole dish together was full of flavour and presented like a work of art. The olive and anchovies flavours were very subtle, and the pine nuts a great addition.
On the second night I opted for the sustainable local fish, which was kingfish.
What interested me about this dish was the black rice. You can buy this in speciality and health food stores, but it’s not cheap. I think I paid over $10 for a small packet. I’d read about the health benefits and was convinced I needed to try it. But it’s not easy to cook and can taste fairly ordinary. But at Lava they’ve turned the black rice into a bed of risotto upon which sits a generous serving of fish. The black rice worked so well with the other ingredients. It was a winner for me and I’d return to Lava to have this dish.
On both nights I had a side of steamed green beans ($9 NZ). The toasted almonds were a nice addition.
During my few days in Auckland I was shocked by the price of a regular take-away coffee, what typically costs $3.50 in Melbourne or Sydney can costs the Kiwis around $5 NZ ($4.50 AUS). And if I’m being honest I think Auckland coffee has a fair way to go to reach the Aussie standard. That didn’t put me off ending my dinner at Lava with a coffee for $4 – surprising it was cheaper than most cafes and tasted good.
By Feast Wisely
- The kitchen at Lava also prepares dishes for the hotel bar as well as for the hotel’s room service. In the bar you can also choose from a range of cheaper, more hearty dishes, such as a burger and fries. From what I saw of the open kitchen they looked to be up to the restaurant’s high standards.
- Watching your waistline? Lava offers a three course light and healthy menu for $60 NZ. The promise is for less than 800 calories per meal – provided you don’t touch a bit of bread and butter and don’t even sip a glass of wine or beer. Not easy.
- Watching your wallet? Check out the 30 minute express lunch special. Select your main course to be paired with the entree and dessert of the day for only $25 NZ. It’s a great way to try Lava Dining’s food without worrying about the bill.
- 21 Viaduck Harbour Avenue, 1010, Auckland, New Zealand
- Open daily 6am to 10.30pm – for breakfast, lunch and dinner