Herald rating: * * * 1/2
Being a white male of more than mature years it's obligatory for me to be grumpy and one of the things that most incurs my displeasure while eating out is to encounter staff who don't really know what they are serving.
"I'll just go and ask," is a guaranteed harrumph provoker.
There is no risk of this at Red. The staff, headed by Michael Devereux, know their stuff and engage with their customers in the most positive manner without going to the other extreme of being ever at your elbow.
In something over a year under new management, this place has established a good reputation. According to its own publicity to celebrate its anniversary it is "flaming brilliant" with New York ambience and Sydney decor. My old dad used to say self-praise is no recommendation and although I'd not go all the way with that assessment, it does comes within hailing distance.
The decor takes advantage of the characteristics of what is basically a long, boring room with eye catching streaks of red and mirrors. The service is, as I've said, exemplary with a full explanation of what we could expect in terms of portion size. And, as it turned out, the food was pretty good.
The menu is not huge and we fiddled around trying to get a good line-up — my first attempt would have had risotto followed by something with risotto — but it was worth the effort.
My scallops were terrific with a very distinctive citrus tang in the creme fraiche accompaniment. Usually I prefer scallops almost unadorned but this worked.
Our other first course of a mushroom risotto with truffle oil provoked one of those spontaneous first-mouthful responses of "this is delicious." When, in the interests of research, I took a taste it was only to agree.
So the main courses had a lot to live up to. The special of the day, tuna with crushed potatoes with game fish folded through, sounded delightful but clashed with domestic catering arrangements so we went for the pork fillet. This was good, the sweetness of the meat contrasting with the earthy Puy lentils and the sharpness of mustardy cabbage.
I was in two minds about the chicken breast, stuffed with citrus and bacon and a roasted garlic and olive jus. It started well but as the flavour of the sauce developed it seemed a bit muscular for poultry. But I could easily have been persuaded that I was just being a little conventional in thinking that such richness might have been better with red meat.
After this gluttony, the staff assumed with justification that we were looking at the dessert menu only as a matter of speculation. But we did, in fact, share the chocolate marquise, which has apparently been a permanent fixture since Red started. I cannot pretend I discerned the feijoa-flavoured vodka but the chocolate was serious indeed and sent us off into the night groaning just a little.
The wine list is ample with some familiar favourites and a few examples which are encountered less frequently and, as befits that status of Red as a bar as well as restaurant, the selection by the glass is excellent. And the staff do seem to know all about them.
Red Restaurant and Bar, 170 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay. (09) 372 5367
$146.50 for two. Two first courses, two mains, one dessert. Five glasses of wine.
By the glass $7.50 to $14. By the bottle; a range from $35 to $84.50.