Phone: (09) 817 8655
Rating out of 10: Food: 8, Service: 9, Value: 8, Ambience: 10
A night of total blackout must be a restaurant owner's nightmare. But to be visited by a Herald reviewer on the evening the power went off at 7pm (and didn't come on again until the next morning) must be even worse luck. But you'd never hear it from The Refreshment Room. Instead of turning us away and closing for the night, the cheerful waiter welcomed all with smiles and tables studded with tealight candles.
"We're used to power cuts round here," she said. "But there are a few alterations to the menu because we can't use the deep fryer." Everything else, it seems, could be run off the four massive gas bottles stacked outside. And a great job they did, too.
The Refreshment Room has weathered many changes over the past years. Around seven minutes' drive along Scenic Drive from Titirangi, it started out as the old Montana Winery.
Now the old building, tucked away in the Waitakere bush, feels glamorous and exotic, while the cuisine has earned itself a reputation for authentic Italian food that entices diners from all over Auckland to make the trip.
Certainly, aon this Thursday night, the restaurant was full. And there was one hardy couple outside on the veranda taking advantage of the ample supply of cuddly rugs.
The menu, which is short to start with, was even shorter with the deep fryer out of action.
The chickpea and mozzarella chips with tomato sauce were off, so we chose the remaining starters - bruschetta with grilled asparagus and prosciutto, and the cured meats and cheese with bread and pickles. Although the bruschetta under-performed, with its overcooked asparagus and hard-baked bread underneath, it was saved by the accompanying hunks of velvet-soft buffalo mozzarella. Meanwhile, the cured meats translated into tasty thin-sliced salami and more prosciutto, and the olives were fat and juicy, served with lashings of crunchy ciabatta. Just perfect to start with.
Another standout was the wine list, which was almost as short as the menu. There are just seven whites and 12 reds to choose from, but what is there is well thought-out and the waiters know each wine intimately, meaning we all got what we wanted without fuss.
Although service was sluggish, we hardly noticed as we peered through the gloom. My slow-cooked lamb shoulder was brilliant. The butter-soft meat came in a pool of garlicky, olivey, herbed tomato sauce. And the wedge of polenta was light and delicious.
Barb's risotto with green peas and meatballs was another knockout. There was not an uncooked grain of rice in this perfectly cooked risotto, while Dinah's snapper, served on a wedge of polenta with a different milder tomato sauce threaded with spinach, was excellent too.
The cos and parmesan salad was crisp. Only the tortellini stuffed with john dory was a disappointment. Mary had hoped for a more substantial, creamy sauce but instead, the pasta, while good, came with a light lemon and butter affair studded with capers and spinach.
Only when our desserts finally arrived did we realise how generous those main courses had been. Although Barb spooned up her feather-light tiramisu in seconds, and I enjoyed a scoop of homemade sorbet, sadly neither of the others could make acceptable inroads into their bitter chocolate and Frangelico mousse cake with roasted almond icecream.
By then it was 11pm and we were among the last in the restaurant. Yes, the service had been slow, but we'd had a great night and the food, considering the blackout, was outstanding. Then, as we felt our way down to the carpark, the sky opened to a show of stars and a pale new moon that made the night really magic.