Dress for com­fort

A sub­ur­ban restau­rant scores on quan­tity but qual­ity needs ad­dress­ing

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - RESTAURANT + WINE - Kim Knight

Every­thing you need to know about this new sub­ur­ban restau­rant can be sum­marised in a sin­gle ob­ser­va­tion: the mid­dle-aged man at the ta­ble next to me wore Bark­ers’ track­pants. Post-din­ner, I fell down a Google im­age search hole. Did he own the com­pany? Was he a for­mer fa­mous sports star rock­ing a PR free­bie? Had he re­cently been to a 1995 Lin­coln Univer­sity re­union?

Even­tu­ally, I con­cluded that noth­ing says neigh­bour­hood restau­rant like a stretchy waist­band. Lo­cals tell me Am­bler is con­sis­tently packed. On the night of our visit, cus­tomers were be­ing di­rected to share the larger ta­bles and many groups greeted each other like the old ac­quain­tances I sus­pect they were.

We had started our evening in a cor­ner seat that awk­wardly forced two of our party to face di­rectly on to a busi­ness meet­ing at the next ta­ble. Get an of­fice, I wanted to yell at the peo­ple who were strug­gling to con­fine a lap­top, wine glasses and ba­sic din­ing eti­quette to their al­lo­cated space. Every­time I laughed, I feared I was in­ter­rupt­ing their work­flow. The last thing I wanted to think about was work. Ex­cept, of course, I was there for work.

“Could we sit some­where more dis­creet?” I asked. Be care­ful what you wish for. At our new ta­ble, we were so dis­creet no­body no­ticed we might have wanted dessert or an­other drink.

To be fair, we did not go home hun­gry. Our first course was a gen­er­ous bowl of warmed, fen­nelseed in­fused olives ($8) and we fol­lowed up with a size­able bowl of crispy but­ter­milk chicken and hot sauce ($14). Plau­dits for avoid­ing a bog-stan­dard aioli dip but this dish didn’t work for me — the chicken was too sweet, the chilli thud­ded like a headache and I craved an acidic bridge. We also shared a chicken liver par­fait ($16). It came with six slices of bri­oche toast, an Ever­est of gherkins and a re­ally de­li­cious ap­ple-based chut­ney. There was, lit­er­ally, quite a bit to love, though if a par­fait should be cloud-like, this was cu­mu­lus at its coars­est. I liked the flavour, but the menu set up a tex­tu­ral ex­pec­ta­tion that wasn’t re­alised.

Am­bler (in keep­ing with its por­tion sizes) has an enor­mous brunch menu — 22 dif­fer­ent op­tions, not count­ing sides. At din­ner, there are a dozen stand­alone dishes, plus six more specif­i­cally de­signed to share. There’s a kale Cae­sar (which I’ve only just now re­alised is very funny — go on, say it out loud) and a quinoa bowl, oth­er­wise it’s bistro clas­sics built on the flavours you’d find in your own kitchen.

Clearly, this ap­proach is work­ing. Fam­i­lies de­voured chicken burg­ers, cou­ples toasted each other over char­cu­terie and cheese plates. I didn’t see what the man in the track­pants had or­dered but by now his sar­to­rial choice was mak­ing per­fect sense. Slow-cooked lamb ragu ($28)? Lovely, but there was enough pap­pardelle to swad­dle a small child twice.

We or­dered the chicken esca­lope ($29) in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a schnitzel-like serve, but it felt like the en­tree all over again. This time the chunks of chicken were adorned with a chewy rib­bon of Parma ham and a truly stag­ger­ing amount of broc­coli. A good wait­per­son would have men­tioned this when I or­dered a side of broc­coli ($9).

The mar­ket fish was crispy-skinned pan-fried snap­per on mush­room risotto ($34). It was not good. Flabby fish, un­der­cooked rice and way too much salt. On oc­ca­sion, the salt was ac­tu­ally as crunchy as the rice. The “sauce” was gen­uinely tasty but the way it pooled un­der the rice should have been a clue to some­one that more ab­sorp­tion might be needed.

Am­bler is a much-an­tic­i­pated ad­di­tion to Pt Che­va­lier’s din­ing scene. This is a sub­urb where, in re­cent years, house prices and school decile rat­ings have risen and a cof­fee ma­chine is a li­cence to print money. Sigh.

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