Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ponsonby Road Bistro and Pure

Some restaurants are very good but, for whatever reason, don’t get the buzz that they deserve. I don’t know why. Something to do with coolness, or fashionability probably, which sounds quite shallow but is probably just as important as the food given that people go out not just to eat but to spend a couple of hours somewhere more exciting than their own lounge.

Pure in Herne Bay is a very very good restaurant with a very very good chef. I went there for a meal recently and it was all very interesting and perfectly cooked. The easiest way to test good cooking technique is the meat, because it’s so poor when it’s done too long, or too hot, or too timidly. Pure has a strong Swiss influence, which might account for the exactitude in the cooking. You can’t make a decent clock if you’re no good at remembering instructions.

But do you ever hear people at the office water cooler talking about how much they want to go to Pure? I lived 100 metres from there for twelve months without even looking at the menu. It’s regularly in Metro’s Top 50, but you can be virtually assured that if you walk up at 7.30pm they’ll be able to find you a table. It’s just one of those things.

Another great restaurant without, as far as I’ve noticed, much excitement around it is Ponsonby Road Bistro. We tried it out a week or so ago and it was lovely – lovelier than you’d expect for a restaurant on Ponsonby Road, and WAY lovelier than you’d expect for a restaurant named after Ponsonby Road. It did very well in the Top 50 as well, with wild rumours flying around that it’s steak is even better than the scotch at Coco’s Cantina.

It’s dark and classy inside, and the service is dark and classy too. Well, classy anyway. Our waiter spoke like Rowan Atkinson’s character in Love Actually – “just the merest of moments”, that sort of thing. He was considered, and charming and articulate in that way that Scandinavians tend to be – they’re so embarrassed about English being only their fifth or sixth language that they practice it until they’re better than us. But they tend to have a slightly affected manner of speaking – no colloquialisms or contractions, that sort of thing. Anyway, I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this because we asked the maître d’ what country the waiter came from and she said he was from Hamilton.

The food: When was the last time you got excited about soup of the day? When was the last time you even ordered it? I don’t think it’s ever happened to us – stupidly, I always feel like if you’re going to splash on a first course, why would you get something that was liquid? – but this one sounded so good that we went for it: miso, pumpkin, ginger and … sweetcorn I think. And a clammy (made of clams, not cold and sweaty) broth, and a halloumi thing, deep fried so a bit disappointing, and that almost perfectly cooked scotch fillet which, again, is a great litmus test for a kitchen. Not quite as good as Coco’s though.

The winelist is really interesting and long and thoughtful, with lots of Europeans and some smaller New Zealand producers: if you ever see Alluviale on the menu order it immediately; I was introduced to it by Sidart’s wine god Marie and have got excited when I’ve seen it ever since.

I’d like to tell you about the dessert too, but as often happens when I’m not being paid to review something, I drank too much and stopped paying attention and have now forgotten everything from about half way through my main. My missus reckons that I said at the time it was one of the greatest desserts I’ve eaten in Auckland which, to be fair, sounds like the sort of thing I’d say when I was pissed. But she’s more of an expert than I am on sweet courses and had only had one glass of wine, so I’m taking her word for it: it was amazing. So order the "roulade", it’s an indulgent but light sort of meringue and mascarpone thing with rhubarb and tamarillo and ginger. Apparently.