Address: 233 Scenic Drive
Phone: (09) 551 1705
Cuisine: Rustic Italian
Bob Harvey, ex-mayor and ardent advocate for West Auckland, has always described the Waitakere Ranges as the jewel in Auckland's crown. I couldn't agree more. Yet few of the evening dining options "out that way" have ever shone brightly enough for me. Until now.
Four minutes' drive from Titirangi village, along Scenic Drive, a new establishment has opened its doors. Three supermen, Mark Hopkins, Marc Harris and John Poutney (ex-Delicious, from many moons ago) have opened The Refreshment Room in the old Montana winery site.
The location is stunning. Cradled in the lush green Waitakere Ranges, with a huge deck for outside dining, the elevation affords stunning views out across the Waitakere bush and towards the city.
Before we'd even peeked at the menu we were bursting with anticipation. This place looked to have the X-factor. How could we tell? Service was friendly and assured from the start, the ambience had been carefully considered with a stylish wooden interior, open kitchen and exceptional lighting.
Once in possession of the pencil-scrawled menu, we were even more delighted. Simple, rustic Italian fare is the order of the day at The Refreshment Room. While travelling in the south of Italy I was surprised to discover how often chickpeas, or garbanzos as they're known there, are used as a staple ingredient.
The Refreshment Room uses them to great effect in their intriguing chickpea and mozzarella chips. Fried to golden, these batons of deliciousness made my sister exclaim that they were like "big soft mattresses" and, I thought, what an apt description. The crisp coating gave way to a cushiony mix of subtly flavoured cheese and chickpea. They were served with a tomato sauce that was dark and rich, spiked with paprika and we swore we could taste the sunshine in it.
Our other starter, the bruschetta, was just as sublime. It wasn't dry and harsh on the mouth and the topping wasn't some boring, poorly balanced pesto. Instead, two pieces of lightly chargrilled bruschetta were crowned with a bright green topping of crushed broad beans, ricotta and a whisper of mint. Draped over the top of each was a generous serving of prosciutto and slow-roasted tomatoes were scattered about the plate. Each mouthful was proof that this was seriously good Italian food.
The selection of mains consists of a couple of pastas, a fish, a scotch fillet and a pork dish and all changes daily. Crepes, stuffed with taleggio, a pungent though mildly flavoured washed-rind cheese from northern Italy, and ricotta, were paired with a warm capsicum, eggplant and tomato salad, and kept my vegetarian sister extremely happy.
My choice was the pork fillet, stuffed with spinach and Italy's answer to Roquefort, gorgonzola. The sharp and sweet flavour of the cheese was a formidable match for the pork - it didn't overpower it, merely chased it down. The stuffed fillet was served with a salad of roughly cut heirloom tomatoes and small, buttery huakaroro potatoes (a variety of Maori potato) tossed with a splash of balsamic and they reminded me of what these vegetables used to taste like.
An affogato was the perfect way to finish our meal and so was the changing view outside - the sun was setting the clouds alight with the most glorious orange glow and the lights of Auckland were twinkling in the distance.
Once in a while I come across a place that as soon as I've departed, I'm planning when I can return, that I daydream about in my idle moments, that cancels out all the disappointing meals I've ever had. The Refreshment Room is such a place. Auckland City's crown just got brighter with this new gem of an eatery.
From the menu: Chickpea & mozzarella chips $9, bruschetta with broad beans and prosciutto $17, ricotta & taleggio crepes $24, pork fillet stuffed with spinach & gorgonzola $28, affogato $7.
Drinks: Fully licensed.