La Zeppa, Freemans Bay

By John Gardner

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Address: 33 Drake Street
Phone: (09) 379 8167

The range of tapas means something for everyone at La Zeppa. Photo / Dean Purcell
The range of tapas means something for everyone at La Zeppa. Photo / Dean Purcell

Whether they are called tapas, mezze, dim sum or small plates, the growing popularity of the eating style that replaces the big individual meal with the food equivalent of Twitter seems unstoppable.

It's not difficult to see why. It suits almost every social combination from the cosy twosome to the giggling gaggle, eliminates the "grass is greener" disappointment of realising everybody else's choice looks better than yours and can fit the budget from the modest mouthful to the truly piggy.

Our approach at La Zeppa was, I have to admit, of the second school. Our excuse for lapsing from the gourmet to the greedy guts was that almost everything sounded so good and with one of us being a regular who pointed out some unmissable favourites we just kept adding another little one.

Not counting the specials, there was a choice of 10 cold plates and 14 hot plates and it would have been a dereliction of duty not to sample the breads and dips, desserts and cheeses.

It is, of course, something of a jump from looking good in print to actually living up to the billing. How often do menus turn out to be as trustworthy as a politician in election year? But here the match between promise and fulfilment is more than reasonable.

The stock repertoire of such food is mostly given a twist and there are some very individual items. Our La Zeppa veteran said their meatballs were his gold standard in the field and while I'm not sure I'd go that far, the lamb, olive and rosemary combination with a bell pepper salsa was a choice we didn't regret.

The risotto balls with saffron, porcini and green mayonnaise were ranked very highly and I was impressed with the spiced calamari with sticky red chilli jam and lime and I'm not a great calamari enthusiast. The venison tataki rolls were the subject of debate after the sharing process left some of us with only beetroot and shallot rather than meat but those who did get the venison enjoyed it.

There were some reservations, inevitable in such a variety of dishes. The preserved lemon seemed a bit strong for the salad with the grilled haloumi and the smoked salmon dip was distinctly underpowered. But overall the level was such that recourse to go a second round of ordering, with another go at the ceviche with crispy prawns and the excellent fries, was seriously discussed before being abandoned in favour of cheese and desserts.

Here the goat's cheese and vanilla bean cheesecake spoons were a great success but the profiteroles were disappointingly flabby. The cheeses, a gorgonzola dolce, a manchego and a Te Mata Irongate from Hawkes Bay, were terrific, in good condition and well served with wine grapes.

Another advantage of this style of eating is that you can pop in for a quick bite before going elsewhere or hang around in a relaxed style, enjoying their outstanding wine list.

The service matches the La Zeppa style, informal and friendly but efficient, making for an evening which sent us happily into the night.

Rating out of 10

Food: 8
Service: 8
Value: 7
Ambience: 7
Our meal: $327 for 13 dishes and three cheeses and 12 glasses of wine.

Wine list: An exceptional selection of European wines by the glass. We sampled the Hugel riesling 07, William Fevre petit chablis 08 and a Domaine du Seuil 06 Bordeaux. Good, but the top votes went to the Te Mata Woodthorpe cabernet/merlot 08 and Mt Difficulty Target Gully 09 riesling, with praise for the Yalumba botrytis viognier 07 and the Ochoa Moscatel.

Verdict: A lively place for a quick pitstop or a relaxed lounge with good people-watching opportunities and top-rate tapas.

- NZ Herald

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