THIS ISN'T a good time to come from New Zealand – the country has just lost the America's Cup to Switzerland. For the uninitiated, that's sailing. And Switzerland doesn't even have an ocean. So, when I reserved a table at Suze, London's only Kiwi restaurant, I expected a mood of quiet contemplation. But Suze was beyond "quiet contemplation". It was dead.
This isn't a good time to come from New Zealand – the country has just lost the America's Cup to Switzerland. For the uninitiated, that's sailing. And Switzerland doesn't even have an ocean. So, when I reserved a table at Suze, London's only Kiwi restaurant, I expected a mood of quiet contemplation. But Suze was beyond "quiet contemplation". It was dead.
It's tucked down an unremarkable side street in Mayfair, so there isn't much in the way of passing trade. Which is exactly why the owners should make more of Suze's kerb appeal. The intense lighting makes it look less welcoming than, say, a gas showroom, which might explain why it was empty on a Saturday night. That, or the regulars were getting over the news of the Cup.
The tables were laid with paper table-cloths and paper napkins. To be honest, it had the feel of a cheaply catered wedding. And we were the first guests to arrive. There was a deathly hush draped over the place. I know that Kiwis have a reputation for being dull ("Terrible Tragedy In The South Seas – Three Million People Trapped Alive!"), but until I ate at Suze I thought that that was meant to be a joke.
I didn't know what to expect from the menu. Fusion, maybe? English meets Pacific Rim? Meat pie with lemongrass? At its best, that's what Suze is all about. No rules.
One word of warning: a visit to Suze will change the way you watch wildlife documentaries. Slow pans of the wilderness (particularly the lingering shots of ostrich and emu) will start to throw up menu ideas. I ordered a starter of sauteed kangaroo strips, baby corn and capsicum salad with lemongrass dressing (£6.50). Daytime re-runs of Skippy will now have me salivating like a labrador.
The kangaroo was lean and tasty – like a cross between beef and venison – but a tad tough. The Kim Crawford Te Awanga Merlot 1999 (£29.50) made it easier to swallow. Suze has the biggest on-premise sales of New Zealand wines in the UK, with some interesting choices from the smaller boutique wineries. Another word of warning: if you are from New Zealand, best not to think about the exchange rate.
I was delighted to see avocado oil featuring so prominently on the menu at Suze. The emerald-green oil, with its aroma of globe artichokes and celery, heightens the flavour of any dish featuring avocados. And because it's so rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids and Vitamin E, it's now reckoned to be every bit as healthy as extra virgin olive oil. Avocado oil also has a high smoke point (at 255°C – it breaks up around 268°C), which makes it suitable for flash-frying. My seared New Zealand baby squid with spiced salad of roast pepper, avocado and tomato with Canterbury avocado oil (£5.95) was simple and unfussy. But the oil left me with a rich, lingering flavour of avocado.
Scenery in New Zealand is not scenery – it's "country". A mountain is only beautiful if it has good grass on it. That's because good grass means good sheep. So I didn't offend the waiting staff by asking why they bother to fly over New Zealand lamb when there's perfectly good Welsh lamb on their doorstep. And most of us can't tell the difference between kangaroo, beef and venison. But the New Zealand rump of lamb with caramelised red onion, grilled courgette tabbouleh and baba ganoush (£13.50) shut me up. I had ordered my lamb pink. But it came back so pink that a good vet could have brought it back to life. I would guess it was hogget, or one-year-old lamb – much tastier than young lamb but not as strong as mutton. Either way, it was a triumph.
The seafood at Suze is air-freighted twice a week from Australia. The yabbies are still flapping, apparently. My sister went for fish and chips just so she could hear the waiter's pronunciation. It's the best way to tell if you're speaking to an Australian or a New Zealander: an Australian says "feesh and cheeps"; a New Zealander "fush and chups". Shame our waiter was from Argentina.
The fish and chips came with tomato sauce. Too sweet. The braised red cabbage? Too sweet. The caramelised red onion? Too sweet. I would have liked a lot of Suze's side dishes when I was seven. Now? Too sweet. Apart from the sweets, oddly. The chocolate and macadamia brownie with manuka honey crème fraîche (£5) hit the spot in a really adult way. And then came the pavlova.
Australia is often accused of taking credit for what belongs to New Zealand, whether it's Crowded House or Russell Crowe. Pavlova is just another in a long list. Pavlova, or "pav", was actually created by a Kiwi who worked as a chef in Australia. This symbol of housewifely kitsch still turns up at birthdays and christenings all across the Southern Hemisphere. So it was a big shame that my pavlova was such a disappointment. It was soft and spongy, with the synthetic smell of Play-doh. Maybe it was nouvelle pav – or pav fusion – but it didn't work for me. There was enough about the Suze menu that makes me want to see the place succeed. But it needs to pay some attention to detail if it's not going to go under. Rather like the New Zealand sailing team.
Suze of Mayfair, 41 North Audley Street London W1 (020-7491 3237)Reuse content