Monday, February 2

Food Review: Orleans

Cuisine: American/Southern
Price: <$20 per portion
Location: 48 Customs Street East, Britomart, Auckland

Orleans is a popular place, especially on Friday nights. I arrived well in advance of my friends, in order to secure a table for us. Unfortunately Orleans doesn't take reservations, unless it’s over ten people! The waitress was helpful though, and we had our table when we needed it (however after I arrived and waiting forty minutes earlier).
The restaurant itself strikes a tasteful balance between bar and restaurant, with high tables, bar stools and cushy benches, creating a laid back vibe. The wall's wooden panelling was another detail that I appreciated, adding to the character and originality of Orleans. Few restaurants in Auckland capture this elusive mix of sophisticated casual.
Sitting down at our table, I was also overjoyed by another sight; three bottles of hot sauce for the taking! I love hot sauce and apply it generously, so I love it when a restaurant provides it to use at your liberty.

We decided to order a couple of sides to start with; the curly fries and cornbread. The service was swift and the items arrived quickly. I enjoyed the mealy cornbread, though one friend thought it quite average. The curly fries were crispy outside, airy and fluffy inside. The chipotle mayonnaise had a slight smoky taste, which made it all the better. The final touch of light seasoning on the fries, created an incredible morish dish.
For mains we decided to share several dishes, which seems like the Orleans way. So we went for the chicken waffle, crispy NZ pork belly, low country gumbo, southern swine plate and sweet potato gnocchi.
Some of the items arrived promptly and others...not so promptly. Two of our dishes arrived fifteen minutes apart. Isn't it restaurant 101 to serve everyone their food within a few minutes of each other? In both cases I had to ask the waitress where our food was, as it was taking so long. The staff were otherwise pleasant and jovial, but they whizzing around so fast, that I had to make effort to get their attention, otherwise they would just ignore us. Not ideal.

Annoyance aside, we dug into our dishes. I was most looking forward to the gumbo, seafood get! The gumbo had a nice spicy note, which was on the milder side but lifted somewhat heavy dish. It was well packed with seafood, the rice having a softer consistency such as in congee, or overcooked risotto. I would have preferred the rice separating, but otherwise it was a a sumptuous bowl.
The swine platter was the only item I wouldn't recommend. Composed of slices of ham, terrine, an egg, some rolls and sour cabbage, it was bland and uninspired. Get your cold meats elsewhere!
The gnocchi was also stand out. Though perhaps the most 'boring' dish there, it had the most polish. The tomato sauce was rich, the gnocchi handmade and pliable, almost dough like. There was a smattering of cheese, which added another layer to the dish and contrasted with the sharper tomato flavour. 'Boring' dish? Yup. Delicious? Hell yeah!

Part way through our shared gluttony, around 9 pm, the band took to the stage and started their performance. We had both best, and worst seats, in the house sitting right beside the band. It was, of course, bloody loud which made conversation hard, but we were happily eating, so not much was missed. The music was a brilliant blend of soul and rock music. There was real passion in the performance and it added to the already brilliant vibe of Orleans. The music continued well into the night.

The rest of our food arrived sometime later. The chicken waffles were what I expected; gorgeously crunchy chicken pieces, with waffles and maple syrup. The flavours were all there, but it seemed like an uninspired combination. It did taste better with copious hot sauce though. I wouldn't say it was disappointing, but it didn't wow me.
The pork belly was unique in that it was almost all fat. I'm used to a bit more flesh. Nonetheless it was a mouth watering, luscious portion. The skin was crackly, every bite making an audible 'CRUNCH'. The skin was slightly blackened, adding a darker, bitter hint. The fat melted in the mouth. Bloody delicious!

After our hefty meal (plus a few drinks and a bottle of wine), we ordered a couple of desserts; the banana butterscotch pot de creme and the baked cheesecake. Both dishes were enjoyable, but I wasn't enthused about either. I'm a massive cheesecake fan, and while Orleans's take had a nice thick texture, I didn't find the taste exceptional. The butterscotch pot was essentially a butterscotch creme caramel. The butterscotch flavour was easily identifiable and created a slightly richer version of the classic. I'll just stick to the original.

So several hours after arriving, our bellies full, our ears slightly hard of hearing, we left. The food for the most part was pretty good, but it was a little bit pricey, so don't expect to be filled on the cheap. The pork belly and gnocchi were stand outs, as were the curly fries. The staff seemed overburdened and some of the food took too long to arrive. There was a fantastic band, though it prevented us from having conversation.
Despite the implied negativity, I really enjoyed myself. The food isn't the best in Auckland, nor is the service. However it was certainly enjoyable, unique experience. What really made Orleans stand out was the combination of relaxed ambience, the attentive d├ęcor and the passionate live music. I ultimately, had a great time, and know I'll be back.