BRUNCH And why not?

Rules to be fol­lowed are worth the ef­fort at this award-win­ner

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - Dionne Chris­tian

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).

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