Herald on Sunday Rating: 3.5/5
Address: Jet Park Hotel, 63 Westney Rd, Mangere
Ph: (09) 275-4100
I blame the mozarela. Or perhaps the proscuitto. Or something else that was wrongly spelled.
Searching online for somewhere worth eating in that vast refugee resettlement camp that is East Coast Bays, I came across an Italian restaurant that misspelled at least one word of the name of every single dish.
I was losing the will to live when I remembered that a former colleague now working in PR had emailed me a year ago, commending to my attention the restaurant at this hotel near Auckland Airport.
It had won the top award in a competition run by the Restaurant Association, and executive chef Nancye Pirini was being warmly spoken of in her own right, rather than because of an illustrious former employer.
Not long before that, the Professor and I had spent the night at another airport hotel after our flight had been delayed. Having eaten a tepid buffet of charmless chicken curry and pasta salad, we turned in early so we could get up for the 4.30am check-in. I was not thinking kindly of airport hotels.
But, browsing the menu online, I noticed that apart from "brocollini", the unintentionally hilarious "artesian" loaf and a disconcertingly random approach to the use of capital letters, Te Maroro had managed to avoid visiting serious indignities on the English language. It was settled; we headed south.
The name of the Jet Park Hotel does not hum with romance, I think you'll agree. It's just not like Lotus Blossom or Seven Bridges or Hacienda del Sol. And I don't think it's cruel to describe the establishment's ambience as absent. The most conspicuous architectural feature is air-conditioning units and before you reach the aircraft departures screen in the lobby, you pass an expanse of cars behind a chain-link fence in an associated park and ride facility.
But if it's not the ideal place for a honeymoon, it plainly fills a need for people from outside Auckland who don't want to get up half an hour before they went to bed so they can make a 4.30am check-in.
Restaurants in such places are reliably pretty dire in my experience. Even in France, where serving bad food is virtually a criminal offence, and Italy where they make sublime coffee in petrol stations, good restaurants and airport hotels seem to be indifferent if not openly hostile to each other. Te Maroro, I am happy to say, makes a good fist of being an exception to this rule.
Maroro is the Maori name for the flying fish, a stylised version of which was the logo for the Air New Zealand predecessor Teal. Some spectacular carved wooden fish adorn the lobby but curiously, the gift shop is chocka with trinkets from Africa, including pint-sized giraffes. A staff member said this was because the owners are from South Africa, which seemed an odd explanation since the hotel is not.
The dining room itself is almost devoid of personality but the predominantly Indian staff do a cheery job of making you feel at home. That goes with the territory, I suppose, when most of your clientele are businessmen doing emails on their smartphones while they chew.
As it turned out, I ordered the same entree and main as Pirini had submitted in the competition. The former, which was quite spectacular, consisted of small noisettes of seared yellowfin tuna, surrounded by grains of wild rice which had been deliciously popped (is popping the new foam?). The accompanying ribbons of cucumber and a cream of wasabi mascarpone were perfect.
A main of hapuku, roasted in a prawn crust and set in a broth that combined orange and chilli, was equally inventive, though it was spoilt by being cooked too long.
The Professor, a big fan of halloumi, was impressed by the kitchen's version which sealed the fried cheese in filo pastry and paired it with the sweet/sour combo of honey and rocket.
Her lamb shank, in contrast to the fish, had not been cooked long enough to take on the flavours of its sauce, so it did not fall from the bone as it should.
The desserts - a macadamia-inspired baklava and a rather nice orange marmalade creme brulee - were much better than standard.
In all, the place gave a good account of itself.
If I'm ever forced to stay in a hotel near the airport, I'll be praying they send me there - with a meal ticket.
An improbable surprise.