With its rock-star connection, sumptuous food and divine decor, the Bay's latest eatery puts Annemarie Quill in a New York state of mind.
The buzz: Handsome, modern fitout. Dark wood, leather, rugged brick interior and wallpaper flocked with gold reminiscent of New York chic.
Exquisite attention to design and lighting add to the ambience, from the uplights that gently highlight Phil Rudd's Sonor drum kit on the mezzanine floor, to the modern-retro lampshades.
Candles throughout, including tealights in the brick wall, make for a relaxed mood, enhanced by background music.
Small details make a big difference.
A wooden coatstand at the entrance, damask table linen and heavyweight stylish cutlery.
A range of tables including booths, and a separate private room for functions or parties.
Tealights guide the way to the bathroom.
Tiled floors, sensor fittings, and a beautiful soft-gushing tap that makes you want to run your hands and smile at yourself in the mirror for ages.
I went twice and wanted to go again just for the tap.
On the menu: The mood may be New York, but the menu is distinctly Kiwi, offering contemporary dining with the best ingredients New Zealand has to offer.
The menu is simple - in fact, the wine and drinks menu outstrips the food menu, but food choices are varied to suit all tastes and prices.
Fittingly for its location on the harbour, there is a wide selection of fish and seafood. Vegetarian options but also a carnivore's paradise with prime cuts of sirloin, rib fillet and eye fillet.
For the trend-conscious, there is Wagyu - the pure-bred, grain-fed, Japanese-style cattle yielding marbled meat which comes in 12 quality grades - this one is scored between seven and nine.
To start: All good evenings kick off in the bar. Here, leather chairs, sofas and barstools blend with AC/DC flight cases. (They don't contain Phil's drumsticks; one is filled with tablecloths.)
Daniel recommended cocktails. I had Millionaires' Margarita - which is designed with a 24-carat gold leaf, and Martine went for the Shmoove - a decadent mix of Baileys, Frangelico, butterscotch, vanilla vodka, chocolate and cream. I can't imagine Sarah Jessica Parker drinking this calorific treat but, here in Tauranga, we enjoy life. Verdict? "Dynamite."
Bar tapas range from small snacks like olives and fries to heartier platters.
The chef prepared us a seafood antipasto platter of marinated prawns, baby octopus, white anchovies, caperberries, grilled vegetables and crispy bread.
Delicious nibbles for those who just want to snack, chill and drink good wine.
The wine list has been lovingly selected, and Maitre d' Daniel has impressive knowledge of the wines which include local and European, dessert wines and French Champagnes. Perusing the beer list, Dutch Martine was happy to see three beers from the Netherlands, and there is a variety of other favourites including Tiger.
We chose Lone Goat Pinot Gris ($47). Deliciously aromatic.
Starters: I had prawn tortellini ($21.50), butter-poached scampi tail, pumpkin puree, beetroot pearls and prawn oil. Gorgeously presented with edible flowers. Hot on the tail of her baby octopus, Martine went for the seafood bisque - a delicious European-style soup with mussels, scallops, prawns and squid ($19.50).
Mains: Martine chose fish of the day, a melt-in-the-mouth hapuka in a Pacific Island-inspired coconut sauce ($33). I would eat steak every day if I could so I went for the Chef's Special - eye fillet with red wine jus, served on kumara mash with seasonal vegetables ($41).
After we'd ordered, Phil came over to our table to say hi. I told him I had ordered the steak rare to test it out. It didn't disappoint. You should be able to cut a good rare steak without a steak knife, and this one was a cracker, sensationally tender.
You can choose steak sauces from red wine, pepper, or mushroom jus to bearnaise, horse radish hollandaise and a selection of mustards.
Desserts: We ordered the chocolate fondant ($19), with cherries, edible 'soil' and sour cream icecream. Out came the jewel of our evening. We fought over the oozing dark chocolate, succulent cherries and creamy sauce. We were tempted by the range of liqueurs but being a school night we had good coffee instead.
Price range: Entrees: $7-$22. Mains: $18-$101 (for the Wagyu). Desserts: $8-$19.
Pricing is up there for Tauranga but not extortionate, given the expense of the ingredients like crayfish and Wagyu, which can command almost $200 in Auckland - without the trimmings.
There is plenty on the menu to eat well without busting your budget and for those special occasions, you can really go wild.
Service: Exceptional. We could tell our waitress, Jules, was silver-service trained. She achieved the right balance of being relaxed, friendly, but unobtrusive. Maitre d' Daniel was a gem_ knowledgeable and attentive, expertly handling the running of the floor.
The verdict: A range of diners were at Phil's Place the night we went: a family with a child; a couple enjoying a night out; groups celebrating birthdays; and tapas fans. The setting is superb, it's what Tauranga is all about.
Sitting at our table, with its view of the boats, I thought, with more investment in the area, Tauranga could give the Viaduct a run for its money. The ambience is spot on; we were so relaxed we just didn't want to leave.
Whether you are looking for a romantic meal, a night out with the girls or a great party, Phil's Place looks set to be one of Tauranga's triumphs.
Details: Phil's Place
Harbour Bridge Marina
Bookings: (07) 574 4147
Maitre d': Daniel Rodgers-Purdie.
Hours: 11.30am to 1am.
Bar and tapas all day.
Lunch: 11.30am to 3.30pm.
Dinner: 5.30pm to 10.30pm.