A Taste Of Roots with #Amex

published by Bren

Last updated: May 19, 2020

This post is a part of my Sponsored Reader series. As a long time user and ambassador of their Airpoints credit cards, American Express kindly invited me to enjoy this Chef Series event for American Express Restaurant Month in Auckland. I sent my reader May and a friend to enjoy 3 hours of eating with one of Auckland’s finest chefs! She details her experience below.

While on my lunch break, doing the usual scroll through my newsfeed I spot Bren’s post about giving one of his readers the chance to eat ‘fancy food and wine’.

I keep reading, seeing it’s in Auckland but a bit late notice and would be the following night.

I had no plans, I thought why not?

I quickly wrote up an email to Bren to apply, and found out that same night I had been chosen!

Since I was told to take a friend, it was only natural that I took my cousin, Enna, with me. We’re a couple of foodies, we love to cook at home, co-run a food business and cook together – you may recognise us from New Zealand’s My Kitchen Rules! I excitedly rang her straight after finding out; we couldn’t wait to try food from such acclaimed chefs!

A Taste of Roots is a simple and rich menu from Lyttleton’s restaurant, Roots, by celebrated three-hatted chef Giulio Sturla. For this special event, he for the first time allowed his diners to see the menu before the food was presented:

Also on board was executive chef Kira Ghidoni, who also boasts three-hats.

The event itself was hosted by The Grove restaurant in Auckland CBD.

This was my first time at The Grove, we were greeted at the door with a beautiful Allan Scott sparkling wine and walked through tables glittering with wine glasses. All the glitz had us anticipating a buzzing night.

We were seated at the nook on a somewhat separated edge, which really gave us a sense of mystery as we couldn’t peer over at the other tables. We were lucky enough to share the table with a reviewer, a Remix magazine writer and a banker; all of them lovely and enthusiastic foodies! 

There was also a blank piece of paper and pencil on our table which had us all guessing what we were expected to do with it.

Once everyone was seated with a glass of wine in hand, we were warmly greeted by Michael Denheath, owner of the Grove which has been around for 15 years.

The ambience and service here was phenomenal, everyone was attentive and we never had an empty glass. 

Then came a special welcome from American Express who make Restaurant Month possible. I have been taking advantage of the amazing Restaurant Month events for years. August is easily a favourite month because of this, it’s also an easy way to take the pressure off figuring out where to eat!

American Express Restaurant Month runs for the entire month of August, and features special menus, classes and events. Check out more of their amazing events here.

Also note that throughout the month there is a special “Spend $50 get $20 back” offer for all Amex cardholders, available at over 500 Auckland restaurants.

If you’re not yet a cardholder, Amex is running a special 300 Airpoints dollars signup bonus on its Platinum card to celebrate Restaurant Month. This is the top Airpoints credit card available in New Zealand and the #1 card recommended in my Airpoints and travel hacking guide. Click here to apply!

Giulio also started our night with a few words.

He is a passionate person and even reached out to us to help him settle his new roots. The blank piece of paper that everyone was questioning now all made sense. He asked us to write anything we thought of that might “help with ideas for his new beginning”.

Henry, the editor next to me even remarked how he loved the way the pencil we received was branded with the Roots logo. There were definitely those small details that trailed through the night making it all feel genuinely fancy. 

I also wrote and sketched a bit after each course, which you can see at the end of this post!

Onto the food…

Course: Snacks

Wine: Valdespino Fino Inocente Sherry, Andalucia, Spain

The waiter presented us with our snacks which were encouraged to be eaten with our hands. He mentioned fermented cheddar cheese and the rest was sort of caught up with the buzzing around the room as we all tried to figure out what we were eating! 

Snack 1 of 2:

The sherry was not too sweet, smooth and reminded me of dried fruits like raisins. I’ve recently come to love wine so being able to try a range was such a privilege!

The dish was a delicate taco-like casing with beautiful sticks of pickled radish, the taste of a cured tender meat (reminded me of pastrami) torn into light strips and some puffy fresh peas, but what really got us all was this little sticky, chewy cheese ball in a light crisp casing.

The inside of this cheese ball reminded me so much of mochi; a hot cheesy mochi ball. So damn good! After quickly getting through our first snack, James sitting across from us thought of the idea to put the cheese ball inside the taco, for some reason none of us on the table thought to do that. I can only imagine how good that would have been…

Snack 2 of 2:

When I saw the butter placed on our table I was so excited for my favourite food of all time…bread!

I’ve been making my own sourdough for the last year now and there’s so much love and nurturing that goes into making sure your starter (real yeast) is right. I just recently have been making batches of sourdough that I’ve had to throw away. It’s been heartbreaking.

Seeing and eating such beautiful little morsels of this bread only encourages me to keep trying.

The butter…wow. It was a grapefruit confit butter. It had hints of sweetness, it actually reminded me of a lightly salted caramel. I believe it also had fermented garlic in it.

Course: Wagyu Tartare 

Wine: Pewsey Vale Vineyard The Contours Riesling 2012, Eden Valley, Australia  

My favourite dish of the night. Everything was good but this…this was simple and sweet and special. With fermented garlic, crispy garlic chips, chive flowers and that incredible wagyu. There was a beautiful bite to the wagyu, like fresh sashimi.

The star component was definitely the black garlic. Something that has been trending, along with all things fermented. It becomes a smooth sweet paste that hits you right at the back of your throat, it reminded me of sherry or dried dates.

Course: Mushroom

Wine: Vinas del Vero La Miranda White Grenache 2-16, Somontano, Spain 

What really shone in this course was the crispy seaweed. Giulio had mentioned in the beginning that they cultivate the seaweed themselves, it really makes you think about where you’re getting your food from. Rich in umami and with such a light brittle texture it helped season the mushrooms perfectly. He just needs to sell these as fancy seaweed snacks so I can always get a fix of these!

It’s also always an absolute treat when fresh black truffle is grated on top. I will say though in this dish, I couldn’t really taste it? Still a treat though!

We were also served a thick soup similar to a starchy Asian soup, which had flavours of shiitake. We were given a medley of wild mushrooms like oyster and enoki, which I absolutely loved. 

Course: Paua

Wine: Dewazakura Dewa Sansan Junmai Ginjo Sake

Served on a creamy bed of what I can only assume is a mushy paua puree. It had a similar texture to apple purée, that melted in your mouth as you bit into the chewy and hearty paua. The small helping of warm beef stock was so warming and the right flavour for a full bodied mouthful. The crispy kale added another rich layer, luckily this dish was small enough to carry those flavours without it becoming overpowering. 

The sake would have been better served warm and just a small shot but a quick sip of the sake definitely wiped your palette clean for the next spoonful.

Course: Fish and Celeriac

Wine: Duboeuf Saint Amour Beaujolais 2015, France

A lighter dish but still rich with its buttery sweet thin soup.

Like a fish stock, which was both sweet and savoury. The celeriac was charred on one side and felt like it was added there for texture rather than flavour. The fish was rich, smooth and tender. We weren’t sure of the type, in my head I kept thinking that the fish was halibut, Enna was thinking hapuka? Delicious either way.

If you don’t qualify for the Amex Airpoints Platinum, another option is the entry level American Express Airpoints card. The card comes with a $50 Airpoints dollars sign up bonus, and to make it doubly worth it, there is no annual fee! Simply apply and spend $750 on your card within the first 3 months to qualify.

This is the best free Airpoints card available in New Zealand today as seen in my Airpoints guide. Click here to see if you qualify.

Course: Venison

Wine: Alluviale Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2015, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand 

This was my absolute favourite wine of the night, maybe of my life. It was so smooth yet clung to your mouth without being dry.

For the food, beautifully tender and how venison should be, rare. Leek absolutely melted in the mouth, I imagined it must have been slow cooked on a low heat or maybe even as a confit.

The sauce looked like chocolate topped with hemp seeds. It was decadent and truly indulgent, rumours around the table were suggesting offal of some sort, like a pate. I thought of boiled blood sauce. It was such an other wordly taste. Salty but not too salty and like a lot of Giulio’s dishes, hitting the back of your tongue without being sticky.

Palette cleanser!

These came out to ready us for desert. I’m not normally a fan of feijoa but these cute ice blocks were light and delicious!

Course: Caramel Cremaux 

Wine: Antinori Vin Santo del Chianti Classico, Tuscany Italy

The final course; short and not too sweet.

A quenelle of coffee latte flavoured ice cream. This was my first time trying a cremaux and it reminded me of a chewy pudding, it wasn’t too sweet but carried a deep caramel flavour.

The praline was perfect, crunchy and added that sweetness that a dessert needs. If it had a bit of flaky salt over the top, even on that ice cream it would have really done it for me.

End it with honey

Before we all left, chef Giulio came out to personally hand us all a taste of his last honey from his beehive down in Christchurch.

He explained a bit about why he had them – turns out he had horrible hayfever when he moved to New Zealand and it was suggested to have a bee hive to deal with the pollen. So, if you were ever thinking of a solution to your hayfever!

Every year the harvest is different and Giulio loves what nature can give back, nurture the land and nurture your body. Good ingredients are just as important as good flavours.

Before we left we thanked Giulio and I handed him my paper! We took a quick pic on the iPhone so apologies for the poor quality. But wow, he was so humble and we cannot wait for what he has in store, he is the founder of the not-for-profit Eat New Zealand so I’m sure there will be more opportunities to try some of his amazing food!

And this is my picture…

After each meal I would pick up the pencil and draw what food or comments resonated with me the most. Here’s the end result 🙂

What a night. Thank you so so much Bren, AMEX, Giulio, Kira and the Grove! 

American Express Restaurant Month runs for the entire month of August. Check out more of their amazing events here.

Don’t forget that all month there is a special “Spend $50 get $20 back” offer for all Amex cardholders, available at over 500 Auckland restaurants.

If you’re not yet a cardholder, Amex is also running a special 300 Airpoints dollars signup bonus on its Platinum card. This is the top Airpoints credit card available in New Zealand and the #1 card recommended in my Airpoints guide.

Happy eating!

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