Named after the famous Swiss mountain, Matterhorn first opened as a Swiss coffee house in Wellington in 1963. The name has seen a live recorded album from Fat Freddy's Drop, hosted many of New Zealand's finest musicians as well as serving (at one point or another) practically every person who calls themselves a Wellingtonian. It's an institution, really.
Such is the name that now finds itself in a historic building on Drake Street (the former location of Libertine). Auckland's interpretation of the iconic name is a little bit airer than its cave-like sister, but still tips its hat to her with its dark wooden panelling and low-lying lights. The menu is also a near-carbon copy of the original.
By far Matterhorn's cocktail menu is its most impressive feature. Don't look past the Rum Blazer ($20) - a smokey, warm concoction of Matusalem 15 year old Reserva rum, cigar liqueur, cinnamon liqueur and Fee Brother's Old Fashioned bitters. It tastes like a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel wrung out into a glass and gently heated. Had I not felt the reviewer's obligation of a bit of prudence and trying other offerings, I would have happily marinated myself for the remainder of the night in that drink alone. It really is that good.
But we couldn't, and so we carried on, giving our order from the very gourmet and imaginative menu to the charming jeans and khaki shirt-wearing waitress. The first plate to kiss my table was a raw tuna dish with wasabi, a bed of hijiki, a few slithers of radish and yuzu. ($14) Basically, a deconstructed, gourmet sushi box without the rice, presented on a plate which looks like a Rochester test. The most surprising aspect of this tuna starter was by far the wasabi (which by the looks of the menu had all the promise of executing all my tastebuds in one go), but interestingly was delivered instead in a very creamy, soft panna cotta format with only a little hint of its namesake's sting. The ratio of hijiki to other items on the plate was a little overpowering for my liking, but all in all the dish left my mouth in a nice and vinegary, fresh state. A good, clean start to the night.
My dinner date had the Duck Wellington ($22) - a play on the Beef Wellington with duck wrapped in leek wrapped in a brioche pastry and served with a side of pickled cherries. On all accounts this was also a good dish, but it was commented that a higher proportion of duck to the other elements of the dish would have been welcome.
For mains we tried the snapper ($36) and the lamb rump ($34). The snapper was quite good, but the real gem of the mains menu was the lamb rump - served with curried sweet breads, cauliflower, chard and pickled currants. The taste of the lamb was self-evident in the sudden widening of my dinner date's eyes and automatic, sharp 'mmm'. Conversation ceased while the lamb was lovingly cleared off the plate by the fork-ful. The 2010 Chateau Cedre Malbec from Cahors in France was a perfect full bodied partner for this task.
The night ended with two Guanaja chocolate mousses served with caramelised milk, a raisin sorbet, raisins, almonds and mandarin ($16). The chocolate, served with a delicate topping of sea salt, had a deep, intense flavour which was offset quite well by the raisin sorbet. However, the extra punchy raisins and mandarin slices confused the matter a little, sometimes taking the lead role in a dish which should definitely be about that perfect little slab of chocolate.
Matterhorn in Auckland has big shoes to fill, but if it keeps in line with the spirit of its Wellington original it should have no problem having the same longevity as its sister.