Let's Eat: Casual approach lacks wow factor

By Peter Calder

The Taste Plate
Address: 597 Mt Eden Rd, Mt Eden
Phone: (09) 638 9676
thetasteplate.co.nz
A plaster wall in The Taste Plate has been distressed with a hammer. Photo / Getty Images
A plaster wall in The Taste Plate has been distressed with a hammer. Photo / Getty Images

When Herald online readers were asked last week what they hate about modern life, their collective wisdom gladdened my old pedantic heart. In third place, below "reality television" - an oxymoron if ever I heard one - and something called Justin Bieber, was "poor grammar and spelling". I could barely restrain myself from cheering.

Misspelled menus have long been a beef of mine. My standing offer of free menu proofreading has yet to be taken up but now there is some evidence that I am not the only person who winces at the sight of proscuitto, mescalin, margarita (the pizza), brocolli, rotissiere and Ceasar (the salad).

My obsession has the hallmarks of a spectrum disorder. I accept that. But here's the thing: a correctly spelled word never pissed anyone off.

As it happens, The Taste Plate's menu contains a single spelling error - "remoulade" appears as "remoularde". We could argue all night about the capitalisation and punctuation, but this is not the time or place. The fact is that one error is close to perfect.

They should take a bow. They should enjoy it, because, unfortunately, it's pretty much the only applause they'll be getting on this page.

The Taste Plate is what used to be Bowmans, which was reliably among the very best suburban restaurants in Auckland. Established by Richard and Charmaine Lewis, it was taken over about eight years ago by Carlos and Angie Atkinson, though Angie has moved on.

I heard grumbles not long after the change of hands that it had gone downhill, so went to check. On a night that a storm forced the evacuation of the SkyTower and cut the electricity, Carlos by candle-light produced a deeply impressive meal, conceptually inspired and technically assured, that made for my second 4-star experience there.

Presumably there are good reasons for rebranding the place: perhaps the suburban appetite for the moderate formality - dark wood, cream walls, white linen - wasn't going down too well. The Taste Plate certainly delivers a more casual experience than Bowmans did.

The fitout is almost obstreperously casual. Buckets hang from a ladder suspended above the bar. One plaster wall has been distressed with a hammer - "Do you know how much fun Carlos had doing that?" the waitress asked - and light fittings, some in preserving jars, are plugged into walls and swung off hooks. A couple of big armchairs are set out on the pavement for smokers. On one wall, a cartoon woman in a bathing suit reclines in an anatomically problematic position, holding aloft a gargantuan raw steak, an image whose iconography is probably best left unexplored.

But at the sharp end of the business - the food - things are, well, blunt, really. The menu has 10 items described, rather unfortunately, as "smalls", seven called "large" and five sides. I doubt that one from each section would satisfy a single diner of more than mild appetite looking for an entree and main. The recommendation is to mix it up.

On paper it was mouthwatering but what showed up just wasn't much good. There wasn't a wow moment all night. Dull pork wontons came with a hoisin dipping sauce from a bottle; a watermelon and tomato salad used bland feta and woebegone walnuts from a packet rather than shiny fresh ones; that misspelled remoulade - really a sort of smoked fish dip - was extremely salty, although the son-in-law egg (soft-boiled, then deep-fried) worked well with it.

The chilli squid was extraordinarily tender and delicate, but slivers of baked coconut were unattractively brown, like porcini mushrooms, and hard to the bite - fresh would have worked much better - and the chilli was a one-note tang, lacking any herby bass notes.

Things got better. Good-quality haloumi came with two excellent mousses, of avocado and smoked potato, and dots of lemon gel, which added interest to a dish that normally relies on texture for effect. And a veal schnitzel with a tasty crumb coating had a tangily dressed slaw and grilled lemon, which added up to a lovely look - although the meat itself should have been drained for longer after frying.

The Professor and I disagreed about the expensive ($15) dessert of peach cobbler. She said it was fine and I suggest we go with that since The Professor Knows Everything. She knows, for example, that we loved Bowmans. We're sad to see it go.

Verdict: That's progress for you.

- Herald on Sunday

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