Herald on Sunday Rating: 2/5
Address: 108 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby
Ph: (09) 361 5858
I bought a card for the Professor's birthday this month. It had one of those old, hand-coloured photos of an Edwardian couple - woman in front, man behind - and the caption said: "Behind every woman stands a man wondering what he said wrong."
It was appropriate, as you would understand if you met the Professor, and when I gave it to her, she said she loved it and had loved when she gave the same card to me for my last birthday.
I briefly considered saying that I was giving it to her in a post-modern ironic sort of way, but since I don't really understand what "post-modern" means and she does, I thought I might be pushing my luck.
I was certainly pushing my luck taking her to a restaurant called Nostalgia.
If she had asked me why I was feeling nostalgic as she turned a year older, things could have got ugly.
But when I said it was very expensive, she cheered up a bit.
Nostalgia is the new name of the 4-year-old themed restaurant Prohibition, which had vintage cars outside and staff in gangster-era uniforms inside. In an interview posted on the website, co-owner Colin Gardner, a former accountant with KPMG in South Africa and Moscow, explains how he detected a "[gap in the] market for an upmarket restaurant" in Auckland. As one does.
Unfortunately the 1920s theme he settled on didn't go down well with the provincial hicks of Ponsonby, who thought it had the whiff of theatre restaurant about it.
The name Prohibition may also have conjured up the idea that you couldn't get a drink. I'm not saying diners stayed away in droves, but the owners evidently thought it was time for a change.
The trouble is there hasn't been much of a change. Both names are out front and the garish faux period decor is virtually untouched.
The waiters no longer wear snap-brim fedoras (though our waitress had spats and a waistcoat) and the speaker in the loo no longer plays a pastiche of mobster talk, but I still felt like I'd been dragooned into one of those a school fundraising evenings where everyone laughs a little too loud to cover up the fact that they feel like plonkers.
The really funny thing was that you couldn't get a drink: someone, presumably not an accountant, had forgotten to renew the liquor licence.
So here we were at a restaurant that had just ditched the name Prohibition and we were clinking glasses of sparkling mineral water. This is ironic, but not post-modern.
The sommelier, however, appeared not to see the funny side. The pained expression on his face suggested a stomach-ache, as he volubly lamented being reduced to waiting on tables, and his weak attempts at humour - he told the Professor she was not allowed dessert because she had left a stalk of her greens behind - fell very flat.
I was serious when I said it was expensive. We paid $150 for two entrees, two mains, one dessert and a dish of greens (which, at $12 may be the most expensive side dish in the country).
Most entrees are $28, and mains average $40, which suggests it's inviting comparison with the French Cafe, Kermadec and Clooney. But the food of chef Denis Baudet, a Frenchman from Brittany, is nowhere near in the same league.
Crisp bulgur wheat tabbouleh and chilli lent spice to a routine seared ostrich fillet, but a vegetable "tartlet" was a square of pastry on which sat mushrooms and a tepid eggplant mousse.
The meat in the Prof's big crab and prawn tortellini had the distressingly spongy texture that irresistibly suggests overcooking and the "spicy bisque" it came in was a quite unsuitable strong and very meaty gravy.
My pig's trotter, shredded and encased in an agreeably substantial filo pastry, tasted much more like ham hock than the meltingly rich French classic pieds de porc.
It was generous, but unsubtle and uninteresting and - at the risk of repeating myself - it cost $40. For a pig's foot.
We shared a dessert of a chocolate marquise, which was fussily composed and dauntingly solid.
Perhaps because I have never been an accountant in Russia, I do not detect a yawning gap in the market for an upmarket restaurant in Auckland.
But now that I have eaten at Nostalgia, I can assert with some confidence that if such a gap existed before, it remains wide open.
Overpriced and overconfident.