Rating: * *
Address: Viaduct Harbour, Auckland
Phone: (09) 358 4131
For Aucklanders, finding good Vietnamese food can be tough. The more downmarket Vietnamese restaurants here tend to be pan-Asian greasy spoons that give the food a bad name.
So the opening of a self-proclaimed "fine dining" Vietnamese restaurant at the Viaduct came as welcome news: imagine what pleasures might emerge from a kitchen giving a fine-dining spin to such a fragrant and delicious cuisine.
Alas, I am still imagining. The food at Lotus is not exactly bad but it's not as good as, or certainly no better than, what you get at the reliable Saigon in K Rd.
The surroundings are certainly upscale - the premises previously occupied by the unlamented Al Dente have been handsomely refitted around two pillars that look like crossed chopsticks.
But the service is most kindly described as erratic.
I get annoyed when a waiter pounces as soon as the table is cleared to ask whether you "want to see the dessert menu".
"What's the hurry?" I always feel like saying. The chap serving us went one better by asking before he had even finished clearing the table.
We started with some excellent "summer rolls" - that cool, crisp and vinegary Vietnamese twist on the spring roll - and some crispy squid, which were certainly squid.
But the mains disappointed: a whole baked snapper was seriously overcooked - an elementary blunder really, considering that the kitchen was not busy - and the tamarind sauce so unsubtle that I suspect it had spent some of its recent life in a bottle.
A dish of rabbit, slow-cooked in red wine, consisted mainly of small bones from which meat could be chewed only with great care and, like the stir-fried venison, did not seem notably Vietnamese to me anyway (neither dish was clever enough to be regarded as fusion cuisine).
We were most taken with a dish of eel (tantalisingly described as "ells" in the menu) done in a creamy coconut and herb sauce, but one out of four is not a good score for a fine-dining establishment of any sort.
Of the desserts, the less said the better. I see we were inadvertently billed for three when we had only two, which seems unduly cruel since both were so hideous.
The crowning indignity, a signature moment if you like, was the "love boat" (the Professor warned me but I was feeling mischievous): three scoops of icecream and rather too many peeled chunks of unripe fruit.
Located as it is on the street out the back of the Viaduct, Lotus cannot rely on the passing trade which is obviously easy to please (how else to explain the survival, even rude health, of the several very bad restaurants down there?)
It will need to make its reputation on its food alone. As my woodwork teacher used to write on my report: "Room for improvement".
Vegetarians: Incredibly, ignored - at least on the menu
Watch out for: The "love boat" special dessert
Bottom line: Room for improvement
$196.50 for four
Summer rolls $9
Dessert (3) $28.50
Wine (one bottle) $42
Thanks to Peter Macky and Paul Waite, who are writing a book about a house designed by the architects who also did the kiosk in the Domain.
They wrote to tell me that the kiosk was never a model "ideal home", as I reported last month.
It was donated, along with the bandstand, by Auckland businessmen to be a permanent feature of the Domain and was always intended as a tea kiosk.
The ideal home is "someone's later fanciful idea that has developed into an accepted fallacy".