Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Last Tango in Auckland

I was saddened but unsurprised last week to learn of the closure of Mango Tango, a South American-style restaurant in Herne Bay which opened its doors last year with what must have seemed like a surefire gimmick: “Pay what you think the meal is worth!”

The signs already looked ominous on Valentine's Day, when our traditional walk around the neighbourhood to watch couples dine uncomfortably together yielded one particularly confused twosome outside Mango Tango, staring past a 'Closed' sign on the window at the 'Special Valentine's Menu' scrawled on the blackboard inside. I'm guessing nobody had booked, and why would you? Who wants to end date night by hovering awkwardly at the cash register, trying to work out how much to pay for your empanada?

I dined there only once with my little sister, and there was just one other table of diners enjoying what looked like a 7th Form graduation dinner. The boys were getting filthy drunk, the girls were all text messaging, and although we left before them, I still shudder to think what they must have offered the proprietor in payment for putting up with them all night. Given that most 18 year old Herne Bay boys have the sort of social conscience that makes those guys who rob old ladies look good, I'm guessing they stiffed him.

Asking customers to pay what they like is a dodgy business model in the first place, but particularly in a suburb where money is often in more plentiful supply than taste. “Reassuringly expensive” is how the locals prefer their restaurants and retail offerings, which is presumably why Vinnies survives just up the road, offering a degustation menu which asks $110 for six courses, two of which are poultry and THREE of which are cheese or desserts.

Mango Tango has now been replaced by Kong's Generic South East Asian Takeaways, which isn't expensive but one week after opening was already very busy. My gado gado was pretty average but they seem nice and I'm sure the rest of the menu is fine. Weirdly, their wine list features several obscure Italian reds, a Puglian Negromaro presumably being just the thing to wash down a caged chicken larb. Maybe the previous owner threw in a few cases of leftover wine as part of the deal when they bought the place. I hope he didn't ask them to pay what they thought it was worth.

Post script
I tried another meal at Kongs tonight and it's total muck: hideous meat drowned in a nothing sauce containing no recognisable Asian ingredients. Avoid.