Restaurant review

Restaurant review: Chez Madame George, the bar is as good as the food

Address: 490 Karangahape Road

From the menu: Snapper ceviche $19; tuna tiradito $19; okra skewer $14; beef skewer $15; beef saltado $31;

Score: 0-7 Stay away. 8-12 Disappointing, let it go. 13-15 Good, try it. 16-18 Great, plan a visit. 19-20 Exceptional, do not delay.

A table outside at Madame George might be one of the nicest places in Auckland to enjoy an early evening cocktail. You can enjoy the last rays of sunshine, eat and drink as much as you want and enjoy the good nature of the beautiful adults seated around you. It’s like SPQR for self-awareness.

You should never order pre-dinner cocktails from a restaurant that takes them seriously – there are too many bistros whose business model is to charge $22 for two pinches of gin and a soft drink – and luckily the bar at Madame George has equal status with the kitchen.

Each drink is a neat work of art: each a different color and shape, often pisco-based but nonetheless hugely diverse. Inevitably served very, very cold, the drinks arrive with a finishing touch that’s more impressive than it should be: a big clear block of ice with the restaurant’s name stamped on it.

It’s a tough list to choose from (the cocktails have mysterious names and are filled with mysterious ingredients), which is a great opportunity to take advice from the staff. It is one of the great teams in Auckland, led by silver zorro Pablo, a captain of such charisma. I’m sure when people say, “Let’s go see Mrs. George,” they really mean, “Let’s go hang out with Pablo.”

Like any restaurateur, he’s spent the past few years in an apocalyptic hellscape, yet still retains the sunny optimism of someone who has just finished a long stay at a Greek island resort.

"A table outside at Madame George might be one of the nicest places in Auckland to enjoy an early evening cocktail." Photo / Babiche Martens
“A table outside at Madame George might be one of the nicest places in Auckland to enjoy an early evening cocktail.” Photo / Babiche Martens

Many businesses were shut down by Covid, but Madame George scrambled to stay alive – delivering takeaway meals when needed and using breaks between closures to breathe before being sucked in like the rest of us we. After experiencing it, Pablo tells me that he is now determined for the business to thrive: “We owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to our customers,” he said, while highlighting a beautiful new private dining room that opened this week.

(He was too polite to say that, but I know it took seven months for Auckland council to approve a permit to serve food at a table in an adjoining room. Given all the other issues facing downtown, can the council not appoint a troubleshooter to help the good guys who are desperately trying to grow?)

Every dish on the menu is delicious, and while I haven’t eaten a dish I’d want to stay awake about, the kitchen achieves what it aims for: tasty Peruvian-inspired food on small plates, with a little something for every taste.

The short menu is especially good if you like beef, with three options – kebabs, steak, and stir-fried noodles (it’s a sassy Chinese-Peruvian thing, and great when that booze turns into voracious hunger). I think I’ve come to the conclusion that lean beef isn’t for me, even at its best, so I’ll go back for the chicken: grilled, tender and juicy with a side of generously seasoned green rice.

The skewers are fun, although the laughing description of okra (“like textured, gooey asparagus”) didn’t exactly whet the appetite. As with many dishes, this okra came with a thick, spicy sauce – towards the end of the dish, Pablo appeared with a teaspoon and said, “Use it, I’m not going to watch.”

“Every dish on the menu is delicious, and even though I didn’t eat a dish that I would like to stay awake from, the kitchen achieves what it aims for: flavorful Peruvian-inspired cuisine.” Photo / Babiche Martens

There’s a vegetarian tamale – a Central American package of pasty comfort, wrapped and grilled inside a banana leaf. It’s made with quinoa (for Peruvians a cheerful staple, rather than a sad child in love with influencer culture and the Bin Inn), served with a small pitcher of spicy corn emulsion and radish salsa and green apple.

Also ask about an off-menu green-lipped mussel (remember mussels?!) topped with another good salsa, its acidity negating some of the more intense seafood notes, without completely erasing the character of the protein.

That said, I think Madame George will become more famous for her raw fish dishes: two similar but not identical options of citrus-dried snapper with sliced ​​red onion and kūmara crisps, or tuna, served pink and chilled . Both dishes come with a spicy bright yellow sauce, but they’re made with different chilies and are distinct enough that you can order both without feeling like you’re doubling down.

“Are the peppers grown in New Zealand or imported? ” I asked.

“I went to a soccer game with Peruvians,” was the unexpected start of Pablo’s response. “At halftime, one of them took something out of his bag and started eating it like an apple. I recognized him as a rare Peruvian pepper and convinced him to give away the rest, in exchange for a few pisco sours. I put it in my pocket, took it home, and cultured it – and that’s what you taste in your ceviche.

Well, I don’t know what you’re looking for in a restaurant, but if that’s not it, I’m not sure we can be friends.

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