BRUNCH And why not?
Rules to be followed are worth the effort at this award-winner
SET UP & SITE:
Can Auckland Airport and the surrounding industrial zone really be just a few minutes away? Sit in the Vineyard Cafe, at Villa Maria in Mangere, surrounded by vines and rolling pasture, and you’d never believe it. It’s not exactly quiet, though. There’s a buzz in the cafe — and it soon becomes apparent why bookings are essential — because this is a popular venue, complementing the award-winning wine-making that takes place here. It’s not a place for brunch, or dinner, a fact made clear on the website where the “rules” of dining are clearly spelled out so we all know where we stand. It’s a large and industrially chic dining room — lots of concrete, functional wooden tables with metal legs; exposed beams; and a terrace for outdoor dining. Not intimate but, thankfully, nothing faux winery nor kitsch. Initially, we were sat at a table right in front of double doors opening on to that terrace and, on a draughty day, it was not pleasant. The wind whistled through when the doors were left open. However, as soon as they could, the extremely attentive and obliging staff moved us.
SUSTENANCE & SWILL:
Almost every dish on the extensive menu sounds enticing; watch the staff ferry food through the restaurant and the meals look enticing, too: generous platters piled with smoked and cured cold meats, cheeses and preserves; a vegetarian one with charred winter vegetables and eggplant parfait. Two salads — one with shredded duck, the other a traditional Caesar — multiple meat dishes, two vegetarian mains and fish and seafood choices. There are subtle nods to many different cuisines but everything hangs together well. We were celebrating — mum has survived a hip replacement which, along with two replacement knees, now means she’s practically bionic — so we made the most of the occasion. I started with warm Turkish bread with olive oil, dukkah and house-made spread ($8) which was good, but not great, while mum waxed lyrical about the soup of the day, a hearty helping of roasted tomato and capsicum with chorizo crumbs ($11). My main, the duo of duck ($38 confit leg and seared breast, carrot cardamom puree, date jam, brussel sprouts, pickled rhubarb), was substantial but could have done with more oomph from the date jam and pickled rhubarb; Mum’s salmon fillet ($36 celeriac puree, sauteed silverbeet with chickpeas, green chutney, pomegranate molasses) disappeared quickly but the silverbeet was pushed to the side of the plate because it was too tough to chew. A side of broccolini, with a light coconut curry dressing, was perfectly cooked. Each dish is thoughtfully matched with a Villa Maria wine. I can recommend the Single Vineyard Seddon 2015 pinot noir with the duck. There’s a small dessert menu which includes one of the best chocolate fondants I’ve had in a while.
SERVICE & OTHER STUFF:
Stand-out service from busy but friendly staff who made a considerable difference to our experience. I’d say there’s been some investment in staff training. Mains were a little slow to arrive and while they were very good, they didn’t quite tip into the “amazing” side of that. Still, it’s a pleasant place to dine and I’d like to think we’ll be back (the lemon and thyme roasted chicken breast chicken supreme, mushroom fricassee, braised witloof, truffle potato puree did look tempting).