Ever since chef Sean Connolly learned how to make passata during the filming of Australian television series My Family Feast six years ago he has wanted to open an Italian restaurant.
This week he’s done it with Gusto at the Grand in Auckland which opens for dinner service on February 22. It’s another jewel in the crown of Skycity’s Federal St quality dining enclave also home to Connolly’s other restaurant The Grill.
“Italian cuisine is produce driven food so it’s an extension of what I already do,” Connolly explained.
Connolly gave MiNDFOOD a preview taste of what is on the menu at an intimate lunch for eight seated around the chef’s table which is located in the kitchen. We dined amongst the hustle and bustle as the kitchen team prepped and plated up around us.
“I’ve always wanted a table in the kitchen where I can have my laptop,” he said.
When he’s not replying to emails Connolly plans to open up the unique experience of dining at the chef’s table to guests on a first in first served basis at no extra cost. We highly recommend it.
The produce is so fresh it’s as if the fish has been hooked straight from the ocean onto the plate and it almost has! We ate Coromandel snapper cooked in Coromandel seawater. “Italians cook fish in seawater and the plan is to cook it in the water from wherever it comes from whether that’s Coromandel or Lee,” Connolly said. He wasn’t kidding and poured seawater from a container into a glass for us to taste. “Yup, that’s definitely Coromandel water,” quipped a guest.
The pasta is handmade, of course, and tomatoes sourced locally from Clevedon from which the passata is also made. The olive oil used is Connolly’s own, sourced in Australia, as well as the duck fat he uses for the delicious duck fat potatoes. “It’s a little known fact that Italians eat potatoes and I couldn’t resist putting duck fat on them,” he said.
For dessert Connolly’s personal favourite is Rum Baba ‘1835’ drenched, as the name implies, in rum and served with mascarpone. We can vouch for its deliciousness. And if you’re a fan of tiramisu, order this because tiramisu is not on the menu. Don’t worry, you won’t mind after eating this.
Watch a video of Carolyn making passata with Sean Connolly and tomato growers from Gusto at the Grand here.