Herald on Sunday rating: * * * * ½
Address: 49 Main Road
Phone: (09) 236 1030
You may expect a road called Main Rd to be ... well, main. But when somebody directs you to Main Rd, Bombay, you should not leap to conclusions about its centrality in the scheme of things.
Instead, turn right at the cemetery and drive straight through town, past the school and the rugby club. Keep going. And going. Around about the time you think you're going to hit the Firth of Thames, you'll see Main Rd off to the right. It looks like a side road for the very good reason that it is. It's narrow and the tarmac is crumbling on the edges. Can a local historian explain?
Fortunately the good people at Bracu include a map on their website and have organised plenty of tastefully unobtrusive signage along the way, so there's not much danger of getting lost. And that's just as well, since you can work up quite an appetite on the 40-minute drive from the city.
The Professor and I were here about four years ago, but it was a moonless midwinter's night and, though we were much impressed with the food and service, we couldn't get a sense of the setting. A summer visit was required and in the middle of the marvellous run of early January weather, Sunday lunch seemed in order.
The menu says it's brunch, actually, and they offer scrambled eggs and the full bacon-sausage-mushroom treatment if that's what you're after. But this is a lunch for people with appetites. This means it's short on light choices: it skips from sourdough breads topped with salmon or cheese straight to the confit shoulder of lamb, barely pausing at anything resembling an entree or a half portion, which might suit some appetites. This didn't much matter to me since I was in the mood for pork belly.
Adrian Brett-Chinnery (formerly of Hotel du Vin and more recently at the excellent Market Kitchen in Newmarket) rules what was once the domain of Peter Thornley (now at Kermadec). It's a bit hard to compare their relative merits since Brett-Chinnery's lunch menu is less ambitious than his dinner one, but on the strength of his pork belly alone the man deserves a standing ovation.
Slow-roasting had got rid of the excess fat and the chef had trimmed the underside of the skin too, so the crackling was wafer-thin and toffee-crisp. It came on a fragrant vege-studded "bubble and squeak", banishing for ever the appalling memories of my mother's turnip-inflected version, which was the way she reminded us kids each week that we didn't know how lucky we were to be alive. A side dish of roasted beetroot with toasted hazelnuts was perfect.
Elsewhere on the table our guests gave glowing reports of grilled snapper and a pork-and-pistachio terrine (which came with very thin, very oily and utterly delicious toasted slices of bread). The grilled haloumi that the Professor ordered to start with was rich and creamy - a feat seldom achieved.
And the desserts - notably a nougatine parfait - were worth every cent of their elevated price tag and made up for the slightly vague service and the irritating spelling mistakes on the menu.
Later we wandered among the olive trees and watched the dragonflies dance over a small pond. Summer stretched deliciously out ahead.
Ambience: A kauri homestead set in olive groves
Vegetarians: Breakfast eggs or gnocchi
Watch out for: Direction signs
Bottom line: Great food in handsome surroundings
$292 for four
Wine: (two glasses) $26
Coffee, tea, water: $30.50