Living Room, Ponsonby

By Peter Calder

Herald on Sunday rating: 3.5 stars

I've never been big on Father's Day, perhaps because I grew up with parents who grumbled that it, Mother's Day and Valentine's Day were all part of a conspiracy by the retail sector to separate us from our money. But my children take it very seriously.

This year, my student daughter suggested shooting pool at a local hostelry, which was fun although her beating me four games to two was not, I think, in the spirit of the occasion. Why I decided to reward this behaviour by taking her out to dinner I don't know, but there it is.

For a few weeks I'd had my eye on the Living Room, a nicely fitted-out gastropub on the corner of Ponsonby Rd and Pollen St. As its name suggests, it's a place to hang out. Different seating options - at tables, on stools, in armchairs - allow for everything from a quick drink to a flash meal, and the flat-screen tellies around the place make it a fine spot to watch the footy. The sound system belts out a bass-heavy soundtrack better suited to a dance party than dinner. But what do I know?

It bills itself as a "fusion organic bar and eatery". I have no idea how a bar can qualify for the wildly overused epithet "organic", but the website says it "specialises" in organic produce without claiming that everything deserves that appellation.

It may pay to ask.

We were warmly welcomed even though the place was heaving and soon seated at the outer limits of the place, on a balcony where we were delighted to see a gas heater installed above our table but disappointed it wasn't connected to the gas supply - which is quite an important bit of the installation.

Our waiter was so cheerful I couldn't even get irritated by his congratulating me on my menu choices. The pool shark ordered an entree of roasted salmon which was the size of her forearm and - I nicked some - exquisitely moist, almost creamy. It was served on bruschetta with buffalo mozzarella, and easily a meal in itself, although she had bigger plans.

Having been assured by the waiter that the duck (roasted in spices and served with bok choy) was not "too ducky", she ordered that. When it came, she pronounced it "not very ducky at all" and fancied it tasted like chicken. At the same moment, the waiter arrived and volunteered the information that it was in fact chicken. He was terribly apologetic and we weren't charged for it. But it was damn good chicken.

My squid with a lime aioli was - like almost everyone's - tasty but oily, but a main dish of skin-on snapper provided a great contrast of textures between crispy skin and soft, juicy flesh. We found an inside table to share a not-very-gingery ginger crème brulée which we had to order twice, since the first order never seemed to reach the kitchen. But if the service was a bit vague, the atmosphere and food were great. Mercifully, there are no pool tables. But there is a pool room next door.

The Living Room
106 Ponsonby Rd
Ph: 376 8663
Website: www.the-livingroom.co.nz

Wine list: Large and lovely, mostly Kiwi, several organic.
Vegetarians: One main, snacks and sides.
Watch out for: The footy.
Sound check: Boisterous.
Bottom line: Classy gastropub, friendly but sometimes vague service.

THE BILL
$103.50 for two
-Squid $14
-Salmon $18
-Snapper $31
-Caesar $10
-Crème brulée $10.50
-Wine (2 glasses) $20

- Detours, HoS

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