Address: 87 Federal St, City Phone: (09) 363 6699 Website: huami.co.nz Dim sum $9-$14; starters $9-$36; soup $14-$68; larger dishes $28 up (way, way up)
You can drop some serious money at Huami, Nic Watt's new Chinese restaurant in SkyCity. And given that's what a lot of people - not a few of them Chinese - come to that part of town to do, it makes sense to give them the chance.
Watt is the man behind the Japanese fusion place Masu, the most interesting of the restaurants in the Federal St precinct. Yet, oddly, SkyCity hasn't ever really aimed at the Chinese gastronomic high rollers the way it targets the gambling kind: Jade Dragon had that kind of kitsch opulence that top-end Chinese restaurants specialise in, but the food was unremarkable, even if it served what I discovered was the single most expensive dish in town (a forgettable wok-fried abalone for $128) at the time I went looking for a special money issue of the Weekend Herald's Canvas magazine.
Huami can beat that hands-down: seafood clay pot $288, anyone? Or live fish straight from the tank (which the waitress tells me is $140 per kilo and the one you pick will be about a kilo). And God alone knows what that crayfish will set you back, the one that is trying to avoid catching the eye of the man wearing white gumboots and holding a bucket.
I'd stopped in for lunch with another fan of yum cha and had been deeply impressed by the dim sum, most, although not all, of which justified the $9-a-serve price: I suppose deep-fried crunchy prawn dumplings are hard to make special but the sticky rice, which came on a plate, not wrapped in a lotus leaf, had a big mushroom cap glistening on its surface and pieces of chicken that seemed deliberate, not leftovers. A vegetable and mushroom dumpling made celery edible and there were scallop dumplings that looked like wee jewel boxes on which a tiny ballerina might pirouette.
But after dark the next night, I thought the food mostly so-so. The restaurant, which is built into the space in the SkyCity atrium previously occupied by escalators but accessed by way of magnificent red doors on Federal St, certainly looks the part: lacquered fretwork, big floral fabrics that almost exude scent and Geeling Ching as maitre d' (is it compulsory to have Geeling Ching as maitre d' in any new restaurant?). There are at least two private rooms and, on the way to the loos, a mammoth duck-drying room where the eviscerated and naked birds sway slightly in an artificial breeze, awaiting roasting over a fire of plum wood.
But the deployment of grand equipment resulted in a Peking Duck that was far from the state of the art. The meat was juicy enough, but not carved with the requisite surgical precision to produce skin-only and meat-only courses. The pancakes were limp and cheerless and the crunchy greens too scant.
A starter of crispy aubergine seemed aubergineless, like the bits of batter you give to the seagulls after you've had fish and chips, and a $32 serve of hapuku with ginger and scallions was both unremarkable and extortionately expensive.
Credit where it's due: a hot and sour soup with soft tofu was a masterpiece of texture and flavour, alone worth a return visit, and desserts - a jasmine mousse and a mango pudding - entranced on both plate and the palate, which is unprecedented in my Chinese dining experience.
But anyone with decent knowledge of mid-range Chinese eating in Auckland, of which there is plenty, may be inclined to think that this is a poor joke at the expense of diners with more money than sense.