Address: 185 Ponsonby Road
Phone: (09) 360 2001
Having just discovered Ella Cafe and Lounge, it seemed fitting to sample the second restaurant that resulted from the break-up of the much-loved Stella in Ponsonby Rd.
It's called Sunday Painters, in honour of the group of foodie artists who used to meet on Sundays to paint and cook then decided to open the restaurant. It is also suffering the kind of feeding frenzy that takes place when the city's celebrities, cool dudes and luvvies discover the latest exciting thing to happen on Auckland's premier dining strip.
The night we were there we were actually part of a photo shoot. Brian demanded to know why we were being photographed, by whom and who for? And should we sign a model release for the photographer? The answer: It was for Cuisine and Metro (I think), but they were more interested in Sunday Painters' floral, billowing curtains than us and we'd be out of focus anyway.
The decor at Sunday Painters reflects its playful origins. Thankfully the old Star Horse takeaway didn't rip out the restaurant's pressed tin ceiling or the tongue-and-groove walls below it. The painters have highlighted both, hand-painted the walls, then added the knockout curtains, the odd painting and even a couple of slightly-too-small chandeliers.
"The effect is Matisse meets Vuillard perhaps," says Oliver the artist.
The menu is short, hand-written and illustrated, then tied together with velvet ribbon - a work of art in itself. The hosts are pleasant and know the wine list and menu inside out.
It had been a trying day, so we ordered quickly and enjoyed our wine while more and more people crammed into the smallish front room, followed by a steady stream of actors and creative types who headed upstairs to what we assumed was a private party.
It might not be fashionable and you could find yourself in the middle of a photo shoot, but while SP undergoes the Ponsonby rush, I'd recommend being early, as we were at 7pm. Our entrees arrived quick-smart and good they were too. I hate to thing what the wait must have been like for those who hit rush hour.
While Barney's tart was "so, so" my cauliflower soup was delicious. Creamy without being too rich (I was assured it was dairy-free) the cauli was scented with almonds and arrived with a large fried oyster sitting in its centre. A brilliant touch for a soup that can look and taste ordinary.
Oliver enjoyed his new season asparagus, while Brian's scallops were served on a watercress salad that set them off perfectly. He was impressed.
But not as thrilled as he was when our waiter brought his pork sausage-stuffed duck neck. This was the piece de resistance. The home-made, old-fashioned style sausage was thick and tasty, with a distinct pork flavour, cooked crunchy outside and delectable within. It was slashed into three and served on a bed of Puy lentils and devoured with small sighs of satisfaction. The taste he offered me was tiny.
My duck confit, which was moist, for tender and rich, flavoured with onion and served with cubed potatoes, was fine though the serving was possibly a little on the small side, as was Oliver's hapuka. It was interesting to note that the fish option, which once guaranteed to produce the biggest serving, is now often the smallest, which is hard on the non-meat-eaters but, I guess, easier on our ever-depleting fish stocks.
Barnaby's steak, on the other hand, was huge. He insisted it was a porterhouse cut, although it was certainly cooked perfectly rare and accompanied by plenty of large, hand-cut pommes frites.
Our desserts weren't particularly memorable. Oliver's pear tart managed to be oily and dry at the same time and the accompanying icecream more Earl Grey than bergamot. Even Brian's chocolate mousse didn't rate more than a mention.
It's easy to see why Sunday Painters is still bursting with fans after three months. In a city where the restaurant formula is sadly predictable, it offers decent bistro-style food in interesting, arty, slightly dishevelled surroundings.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $243.50 for four entrees, main courses, desserts and glasses of wine.
Wine list: A well thought-out, though short list, list offering local and imported options to suit all tastes.
Verdict: A good, relatively inexpensive restaurant in a riotous setting that adds another dimension to Ponsonby Rd eating out options.