Mahi Eats: Chatting With Josh Emett On All Things “Gilt”
BY MAHI KUMAR
This Mahi Eats restaurant review is a little different: we got to pick the brains of renowned chef and multiple restaurant owner: Josh Emett.
5 NOV - 2023
We had the privilege of experiencing THE opening of 2023: Gilt Brasserie.
Gilt Brasserie is solving the problem that I so often face by being an all-day brasserie serving food. Their motto, “most dinners start out as lunch” is in such alignment with the way I love to dine: long and luxuriously.
The brainchild of Josh and Helen Emett, Gilt opened its doors in late October. "From our time living abroad, Helen and I developed a love-affair with the European style of brasseries. The food and wine shines and the atmosphere is always lively, from midday right through until the late evening. It is the culture in these European cities that heavily influences brasseries and we wanted to bring this concept home to New Zealand.”
Nestled in the historic Chancery Chambers building in the Auckland CBD’s legal district (as a lawyer myself, this venue is a touch of genius!), Gilt, in my humble opinion, is the perfect example of sophistication, elegance and luxury brought to you right in the midst of corporate Auckland.
Gilt opened its doors to a large and modern venue which has large window panes bringing in natural lighting during the day, but turning to a more demure dimly lit ambiance in the evenings. Fitting a very generous amount of patrons, this makes it perfect for your next team lunch or birthday dinner.
“Why the name Gilt? Josh answered, “Gilt Brasserie’s home is the bottom floor of the Auckland District Law Society building in O’Connell St. The name plays on that location, as well as its proximity to the High Court and law practices and legal chambers on Shortland St. We love the play on words and nod to the building's history.”
Serving with a “justice” themed vibe (quite fitting for the location), the bright red Gilt branding is prominent throughout. As you walk through the restaurant you see a number of tables with green glasses on them, and velvet seats that look extremely inviting. And as you trace along toward the back, there’s an open kitchen style and you can take a peek at what’s cooking as you head toward the stylish all-gendered bathrooms.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Josh is one of the most renowned chefs in NZ who has worked in so many incredible places (such as London and New York!). We wanted to know what inspired him to begin his culinary journey. “Growing up in Waikato, I always had a love of food and discovered cooking at a young age. My farming background really inspired me on my food journey and ultimately that is what sparked a career in food,” he said.
The Chatty team were so excited to try Gilt out, that we had to get Josh’s thoughts on what his favourite items on the menu were. Josh stated, “our menu focuses on classic dishes done right. Signature dishes include a refined rendition of duck frites, Sicilian crudo, tomato schnitzel with tomato butter sauce and bringing back the minute-steak for lunches with an amazing entrecote sauce. Don’t stop there as our dessert menu includes crema catalana, Paris-brest with hazelnut cremeux and a nostalgic Zabaglioni with blood orange granita.”
Before we dive into the review of the food, it’s prudent that I note how extensive the wine list at Gilt is, catering to your wine needs globally. The cocktails are also split into a during-the-day and after-dark section, giving you that much more choice. On entry, I asked to be surprised with a cocktail noting that my favourite spirit was gin. I was delivered the corpse reviver number 2, aptly named as it was a gin gimlet with a zest of lemon that was extremely refreshing. 10/10 would recommend. The negroni was also a hit amongst our party.
Gilt Food Review
To start, we went raw. We ordered half a dozen Te Matuku oysters ($36) served with a mignonette. If you know me, you know my weakness is oysters. These were so fresh that you barely needed the mignonette (which was a Sauvignon Blanc based mignonette) to give you an absolute burst of flavour. This was followed by the Sicilian Crudo which was my ideal crudo dish consisting of tuna, salmon and kingfish. The flavouring of the crudo was light and not overdone, tasting of lemon and olive oil bringing the acids and the zest, but the capers adding the pinch of salt needed.
To pair with the raw entrees, the in-house sommelier Jane (who was tremendously knowledgeable and patient with our queries) recommended a carafe of the Domaine Seguinot, Chablis (a chardonnay) which was an exquisite French wine. Having recently spent almost a month in France, I can wholeheartedly say this was better than almost every wine I tried whilst there (if only we had Jane while travelling!).
Next, for our entrees, we ordered the triple cheese souffle ($24), the Baked Oysters ($24), the Escalivada ($22), and the Grilled green asparagus ($18).
The cheese souffle was fluffy and far lighter in consistency than expected. As a cheese fanatic, I could have done with more cheese in the souffle, but the consistency and more muted cheese taste lent itself well to being devoured very quickly.
The Escalivada was also a gorgeous dish. The Escalivada is a roasted salad that derives from France and Spain which comprises grilled vegetables. This included capsicum which was the perfect combination of smoky yet sweet, aubergine and was tastefully topped with anchovies which brought it all together and added the perfect pinch of salt.
The asparagus felt unpretentious and was lightly grilled with a drizzle of lemon, making it subtle and well balanced with the other dishes. Our only complaint is that we could have done with more!
The absolute star of this section were the baked oysters. I was initially sceptical as baked oysters are actually not a dish that I’ve ever had before, so it came as a pleasant surprise how succulent and yet fresh this tasted. The temperature was warm and the braised leeks cooked in the beurre noisette (brown butter) created a combination of ocean-freshness yet earthiness.
Next, Jane recommended a bottle of the 2021 Sam Harrop, Grand Amateur ‘Merchant’, Hawke's Bay Cabernet Franc which was an instant hit. It didn’t taste sweet but was tart and went down extremely smoothly. This was such an incredible pairing with our mains, so we appreciated the recommendation.
For our mains, we ordered the 300g Wagyu Sirloin ($72), the lamb chops ($46), the Market Fish ($46) and the King Crab Pappardelle ($44). We ordered the roasted cauliflower as a side dish ($22), which was a very simple side dish addition that was well-complimented by the addition of almonds.
When I say the Wagyu had our group absolutely drooling, that is not in any shape or form a hyperbole. The running commentary which was consistently repeated was “God Damn….” and the whole group even concluded that it may have been the best steak they’d had. Paired with a sauce au poivre, the flavours were stunning. In hindsight, we should have had the steak medium instead of medium rare due to the amount of fat in the meat. Nevertheless, it was the best steak we had ever had. The wagyu was incredibly well marbled and the meat’s consistency was perfection - that cow did not have a day’s exercise in her life.
I absolutely devoured the market fish which was cooked in a Normandy sauce that gave it such a beautifully buttery and creamy texture topped off with sauteed mushrooms.
The king crab pappardelle was also a great addition, being more subtle in taste but breaking up the textures and flavours of the other dishes. I am partial to a pasta dish too, so I may have been guilty of polishing this one off.
At this point, the meal was absolutely bussin’ (me, a millennial, aiming to keep up with Gen Z Tik Tok speak….), was eager to try the desserts. We first tried the Rum Baba ($16) which was a light sponge cake coated in a vanilla chantilly and served with candied orange. The group really liked this dessert, but as I’m not a huge fan of rum, I didn’t find it absolutely delectable. Next was the Crema Catalana ($16) which is a variation of the creme brulee derived from Catalonia. This was a great dessert and a real hit amongst the rest of the table but it wasn’t my favourite of the lot, but that’s only because next came two that for lack of better words, blew my mind. The Baked Alaska ($16) was essentially like a bombe Alaska (and I love meringue-based desserts) with Neapolitan ice cream served within it. We were fighting over who could finish this dessert because the flavours were exquisitely paired. The strawberry sorbet had a tartness to it that kept it fresh, clean and leaving you wanting more.
After devouring such a delectable meal, we were keen to learn from Josh whether there were any other cool new projects or openings on the horizon. Josh answered, “Helen and I will be kept busy with the new opening of GILT, together with Onslow and The Oyster Inn. But we’ll never say never!”.
Josh has had a massive rate of success with openings, with past openings that are coveted (and some of my personal favourites) like Oyster Inn and Rata in Queenstown. Having the perseverance and passion to consistently put into projects is phenomenal.
For the PQQ
For price, I give Gilt a 8.5. There is a price tag attached to it, but the restaurant and the dining style is high class and the prices aren’t unreasonable with that in mind. Dishes such as the wagyu, the market fish, the king crab pappardelle and the half dozen oysters were extremely well priced for what they were offering from my perspective and the quality of the food. For quality, this gets a 9.5. I am not exaggerating when I say there were dishes that absolutely had us salivating and scraping the plate. The pairing of some of the flavours is a true testament to Josh and Helen’s vision. For quantity, Gilt gets a 7.5 as the portions are great for sharing style plates, although it likely works better to share as a group of 2 (rather than our party size of 4), which left us wanting a little more. Coming to an 8.5 on the PQQ scale, we could not rave MORE about Gilt.
It stood true to my expectation of it being THE opening of 2023, and definitely one to write home about.