Au­gus­tus Bistro

Spot the dif­fer­ence at re­vamped bistro

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - Kim Knight

When I was lit­tle, I loved those “spot the dif­fer­ence” quizzes. That lady has a red bag! That cat has only two whiskers! Etc. All grown up and sent to in­ter­view fa­mous peo­ple on movie sets, I be­came fas­ci­nated by body dou­bles. One of these men is not re­ally like the other, but to­day, Nigel, you are Sam Neill. (True story: Neill, whose real name is Nigel, had a stand-in called Nigel when he made Per­fect Strangers.)

Mythol­ogy says dop­pel­gangers are bad luck. Por­tents of death, har­bin­gers of mad­ness. I was think­ing about all of this when I took a seat at the new Au­gus­tus Bistro, which looks ex­actly like the old Au­gus­tus Bistro.

The orig­i­nal went into liq­ui­da­tion ear­lier this year. A cou­ple of months ago, the own­ers of Wai­heke Is­land-based Mud­brick Vine­yard and Res­tau­rant an­nounced they were tak­ing over.

So here we are. Au­gus­tus Bistro: the se­quel. Same chairs, ta­bles, fo­liage and folded pa­per menus; dif­fer­ent staff, wine list and a more ca­sual food ethos. When we vis­ited, a change to the liquor li­cence was pend­ing — per­haps the planned ad­di­tion of street­side ta­bles will en­cour­age foot traf­fic that might not oth­er­wise know there is a very beau­ti­ful res­tau­rant and court­yard be­hind that his­toric fa­cade.

Let’s talk about the staff. Lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely. Al­to­gether too much lovely. I re­cently com­plained about a lack of love­li­ness at another res­tau­rant, so clearly it’s a fine line. How do you cross it? Be the wait­per­son who spots a woman tak­ing pho­to­graphs of her food and comes bound­ing over to ask if she would like a pho­to­graph with her friend. I feel like tourists on Wai­heke would love this. Din­ing on the Pon­sonby-meets-Herne-Bay bor­der with my for­mer boss, a mem­ber of a se­nior lead­er­ship team? Not so much.

I was ex­cited when I read about plans to in­clude pasta on the new menu. So was my su­pe­rior, so I thought it pru­dent to let her or­der first. Her en­tree ($25) had a del­i­cate scampi fill­ing, di­vine lemony-but­tery sauce and as­para­gus — green and (bonus!) white. But the point of pasta is the pasta and the ravi­oli wrap­per was tough and def­i­nitely needed longer in the pot.

A $34 mush­room tortel­loni (the big­ger cousin of the more spell check-ap­proved tortellini) fea­tured pasta so thick and doughy it re­sem­bled the in­te­rior of an old-school casseroled dumpling. The flavours were all there. The tu­mult of mush­rooms and karengo sea­weed — rapidly be­com­ing Auck­land’s in­gre­di­ent du jour — was cut with lit­tle jolts of salty, sharp goat’s curd and if some­one had a lighter (firmer?) hand on the pasta ma­chine, it might have been per­fect.

In the lat­ter cat­e­gory, I loved a pretty salad of smoked lamb loin ($24). Red and yel­low cap­sicum had been roasted sweet, petals of shal­lot were charred just so on the edges and is there a meat bet­ter matched to smoke than lamb? I wouldn’t change a thing about this.

Our fi­nal main was pork ($38). The crackle cracked, the meat melted and re­ally, what else do you need? Ku­mara, ap­par­ently, roasted to caramel and a crunchy lit­tle tan­gle of fen­nel and herbs. A New Zealand bistro dar­ling, done well.

The old Au­gus­tus had a very French thing go­ing on. This ver­sion makes a virtue of lo­cal pro­duce — Te Matuku oys­ters, Houhora pork, Hawke’s Bay floun­der, etc.

Our (re­ally very lovely) wait­per­son was anx­ious to tell us the $16 prof­ite­role with pra­line ice­cream and salted caramel came as a sin­gle puff of choux. What she ne­glected to men­tion was the choux was lit­tle big­ger than a large wal­nut and the jug con­tain­ing the caramel sauce ap­peared to have been pur­loined from a doll’s house. Pleas­ant but pricey. Go for the New Zealand-only cheese se­lec­tion (Lit­tle River, Grin­ning Gecko, Mercer and Cleve­don Val­ley Buf­falo) and, at $14 per 40g, guar­an­tee your­self a big­ger flavour bang for your buck. Maybe wash it down with a wine. Wai­heke, ob­vi­ously.

Au­gus­tus 2.0 needs thin­ner pasta, fat­ter prof­iteroles and an un­der­stand­ing that, in these sub­urbs, the only pho­to­graphs are self­ies. Get that right, and it could be pic­ture-per­fect.

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