Sunday, June 17, 2012

Metro review: Vinnies

The following review appeared in the April issue of Metro magazine. You can read my review of Mollies in the latest issue, out now and available everywhere.

166 Jervois Road
Herne Bay
376 5597

Dinner Tues-Sat from 5pm Lunch Friday from 12
Entrees $20-28 Mains $39-42 Desserts $18

I didn’t get laid at university, but not for lack of trying. I went to toga parties, gamboled about the student union, even feigned an interest in film appreciation, but it just didn’t happen for me. I was deeply unsexy you see, and all you can do about unsexiness is wait it out.

Vinnies is unsexy too, that’s its problem. The food is great, and the service likeable. But the name, and the room, and the location … gawd, it’s about as hip as your uncle’s living room. It’s been round for years of course, and doing just fine for most of that. But we have so many other great restaurants to compare it to right now, that’s the thing. What self-respecting chino-wearer is going to tell his mates to meet him in Herne Bay for some Jim Skinner, when there are all those other exciting openings around Britomart, Federal Street and Fort Lane?

And what half-decent restaurant critic, helping pick Auckland’s top 50 restaurants next month, can point to an empty, boring but excellent place like this, and say that it’s gotta be on the list, when he knows it’ll be at the expense of somewhere small and exciting, where people queue for a table most nights of the week. Luckily, ‘Vinnies’ has no apostrophe, so I’m bound to leave them out on religious grounds.

It’s fine dining: white tablecloths, free bread, frequent visits from a waiter to clean bits of the latter from the former. The menu is annoyingly short, I think, with only five mains to choose from – but the food is exceptionally well done. Geoff the Chef knows how to mix his meats – deep fried scampi with a steamed hapuku sausage, market fish with freshwater crayfish and pig’s cheek ‘bacon’. All delish, although I wasn’t so convinced with the ethno-fusion. That foie gras needs something to cut through it, but I’m not sure that an Asian-style papaya salad is the answer.

One of the best dishes I’ve had all year was the wild hare confit, super slow cooked and macadamia crumbed, sitting on a juniper-infused spinach puree, with carrots and caramelized witloof. It was savoury and flavoury, with bitter, sweet and spicy notes in every mouthful. Seasonal menu changes means you won’t be able to get quite the same thing until summer next year, but I’ll bet it’s still incredible in its current configuration.

The dessert platter is pretty good value and highly recommended too – if only for the flavour-packed saffron ice cream. You’ll miss out on the Eton Mess but you can get that in a lot of places right now – it’s the new crème brulee, and thank god for that.

Very few complaints about the food, then, and the service is eager to please – although there’s just one girl on, midweek at least, and I’ve got to say it’s a little depressing watching her padding around an empty room while the in-house stereo system plays the same compilation of trip-hop classics I used to keep cued up on my mum’s tape deck in case I ever pulled at a screening of Citizen Kane.

So where does that leave us? Look, an empty fine dining restaurant just doesn’t work, and it’s not like you get to soak up the buzzy neighbourhood vibe. Despite the food, I can’t think of any occasion on which I’m likely to come back, and I’ll bet I’m not the only one. Maybe Vinnies will sneak into the Top 50 but, if they do, I’m afraid they’ll have a little downward arrow next to their name to indicate that their time at the top of the charts is gone.