The Re­fresh­ment Room; three ports

From okay to a high note

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - Kim Knight

The best meals I’ve eaten in West Auck­land were cooked by the par­ents of the man I live with.

It is a rea­son­able ex­change. His whiskers are no longer in their bath­room sink; they bake us cakes that defy grav­ity and slather legs of lamb in an­chovies and gar­lic.

But who wants to spend a hol­i­day in the kitchen? We had dined at the Re­fresh­ment Room years ago and I re­called the duck, a vel­vety soup and some very good bread. On the ba­sis of that fine bistro food mem­ory, I booked a Labour Week­end ta­ble.

It’s a long(ish) and wind­ing road to the eatery with its beau­ti­ful Waitakere bush views. In­side, the ta­bles were close to­gether, but there was an im­me­di­ate sense of warmth. Mis­matched wooden chairs, late sun lazily slant­ing across a room dec­o­rated with fresh flow­ers — it was like be­ing in­vited into some­one’s home.

Per­haps you can have too much of a good thing. There was a dis­con­cert­ing in­ten­sity to the ser­vice. I nearly leapt right out of my rus­tic chair when a woman (not the wait­per­son — she was on the other side of me tak­ing an or­der from the or­ganic-heavy wine list) snuck up and whis­pered at very close range: “Is every­thing okay?”.

“Okay” was, in fact, the word du jour. The cake baker re­ally loved her spinach gnoc­chi ($29). The beef cheek ragu was sat­is­fy­ingly chunky and ten­der, and she de­clared the gnoc­chi beau­ti­fully light, but there was a lot of very or­di­nary be­fore and af­ter that.

The menu, on crum­pled sheets of pa­per, con­tained at least six spell­ing er­rors. My “yo­ghurt” might be some­one else’s “yogurt” but I am cer­tain fen­nel “seads” and lemon “ric­sotto” are not cor­rect in any lan­guage.

The sour­dough cia­batta was house-made, but I or­dered it mostly be­cause it came with cul­tured but­ter and smoked salt ($9). Un­for­tu­nately, no amount of cul­ture could save the rock-hard pat that should have come out of the freezer some time ear­lier.

Honey bal­samic lamb ribs were cooked to a fatty crisp with the afore­men­tioned “seads” cling­ing for dear life via a pow­dery, floury coat­ing. Yummy (fat, in­vari­ably, is) but $17.50 for three — $5.83 apiece — was pricey.

That de­li­cious gnoc­chi was a sur­prise, be­cause a “small plates” it­er­a­tion of spinach, ri­cotta and goat’s cheese dumplings ($17.50 for three) had the claggy tex­ture of some­thing that, once swal­lowed, could take sev­eral days to di­gest. My meat­balls ($29.50) were dense and meaty. If the sauce was a smidgeon sweet, the ac­com­pa­ny­ing pap­pardelle was per­fect and the plat­ing was sur­pris­ingly el­e­gant.

A $30 fet­tucine mari­nara had the same sauce and a de­cent help­ing of seafood (in­clud­ing mus­sels in the shell) but a $35 steak was an ex­er­cise in raised eye­brows. Im­pec­ca­bly cooked, but se­ri­ously, $35 for meat, four spuds and a hand­ful of let­tuce?

I wanted to be en­joy­ing all of this far more than I was. Maybe I had struck a bad night; maybe the kitchen (which I sub­se­quently dis­cov­ered had changed hands since my first visit) didn’t want to be in the kitchen any more than I did. I or­dered the ice­cream ($12 for three scoops) be­cause it was billed as home­made and it was, well, okay.

Across the ta­ble, three enor­mous bit­ter choco­late and honey truf­fles ($12) were the star of the pud­ding show. They des­per­ately re­quired a coun­ter­point of ice­cream or cof­fee, but taken in (very) small spoon­fuls, they were that beau­ti­ful bush brought in­side and turned into a ganache — dark, rich, and in­tensely flo­ral; sweet and earthy Waitakere on a plate. It had been an un­even evening, but at least we would leave on a high note.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.