If you love the finer end of the culinary scale, you need to go to Gothenburg! No-no-no, not the city on the west coast of Sweden, although there are many fine restaurants there, too; we’re staying right here in Aotearoa, on the banks of the mighty Waikato, in Hamilton.
Hamilton’s Gothenburg Restaurant in the CBD is well known as one of the best places to eat by locals but for an out-of-towner, it may go unnoticed. Located by the museum, behind the corner, in the basement of the ANZ bank building, you’ll do well to spot it from the street. May be a blessing, as you might not get a table by just turning up. We booked a week in advance, for a Thursday evening in July, thinking we’d have our pick of times; not by a long shot, but we did get a table so happy days.
Moral of the story – book ahead, because this is the place to be.
The space itself is quite unique for New Zealand. The building is very modern and the restaurant’s interior is tastefully decorated with clear nudges to clean Scandinavian design. There are Aalto-esque chairs, lamps that look suspiciously like they could be something IKEA might call Hördigördi and the stunning wood slated feature wall reaches all the way to the impressively high ceiling.
It is interesting enough so you’ll take notice, but not overpowering enough to cause a distraction from your meal or the people sharing your evening.
Gothenburg is a tapas restaurant, which is great for trying out a wide variety of tastes, scents and textures throughout the meal. For a group of three adults, we ordered six plates to sample; five of these dairy-free, which in itself is a phenomenal range for those among us with dietary requirements.
As the different dishes began to arrive, we were treated to a masterfully prepared conveyor of culinary art prepared to absolute perfection. It is clear from the very first bite that the Gothenburg kitchen selects their ingredients carefully to construct complex flavour, colour and aromatic combinations to offer even the most distinguished palates surprisingly unique blends to enjoy.
The dishes are plentiful to share between three hungry adults without any need to order doubles, which was pleasantly unexpected for a tapas restaurant.
Great food alone isn’t enough to create a gastronomic destination. You always seek that elusive polygamy of location, ambience, kitchen and service and Gothenburg sits at the apex of that rare confluence of multi-faceted excellence. Its location is very central, but at the same time it is almost invisible. If you know where it is, you will seek it out, but it really isn’t a magnet for passing traffic. Yet the restaurant was full on a cold July Thursday evening; this does not happen by accident.
The Gothenburg staff were attentive and knowledgeable. We were promptly greeted on arrival and shown to our reserved table. Our waitress knew each dish in minute allergenic detail. There was none of the usual “oh let me go check with the kitchen” when asking about what is in each dish. Wine recommendations were also readily available and matched the chosen dishes with a remarkably professional accuracy.
The staff were once again on the ball at the end of the meal. There was a large (slow) group ahead of us to pay and within a matter of seconds, a passing member of staff stopped what they were doing and took us around to an unmanned till to take our payment. It’s a small time saver gesture that almost everyone in New Zealand hospitality misses; but not at Gothenburg.
What about value?
Gothenburg is not the cheapest restaurant in town and it shouldn’t be. Having said that, we were pleasantly surprised by the final tally of $154. This included six world class mains, two beautiful desserts that we really could have done without but couldn’t stop ourselves, a glass of wine, a cocktail and a lemon, lime and bitters for the driver. In the context of the meal and experience we had, this was very reasonable for a truly remarkable dinner out.
I did not go out tonight thinking I will write a review and if you have read this far, it will come as little surprise that I rate Gothenburg extremely highly. Is Gothenburg the best restaurant in New Zealand? It’s not for me to say, but it did shoot straight into my personal top three with Madriz and One Tree Grill in Auckland.
Visit Gothenburg online at www.gothenburg.co.nz or, better yet, in person at 17 Grantham Street, Hamilton.