Herald on Sunday rating: 3.5/5
Address: 233 Scenic Drive
Ph: (09) 551 1705
Website: therefreshment room.co.nz
It was a dark and stormy night. Well, it wasn't really stormy, but it was pretty dark, and the fog was getting thicker and thicker the higher we climbed up Scenic Drive.
I tried to explain to the Professor, who insists on driving, that you get better visibility in the fog with the headlights dipped; girls don't know stuff like that, which is why they haven't mastered spinning the steering wheel just before each point in a three-point turn.
Anyway, maybe six kilometres past the village, The Refreshment Room showed up in a blaze of light on the right. Even through the white bank of fog illuminated by the doggedly full-beam headlights, it was impossible to miss.
After all that driving, we were feeling in need of refreshment. Is this why the place is so named? More probably it is because, since the building stopped being part of the Montana empire, it was briefly a tea-shop. On the other hand, it was also a gang HQ, ("It's had a chequered past," a waiter explains) but a restaurant named, say, Headhunters or Apehangers probably conjures up the wrong impression when you're wanting to tempt the punters with bruschetta and risotto.
The Refreshment Room derives, in more ways than one, from Delicious in Richmond Rd: chefs John Pountney and Marc Harris were among that place's early cooks and some dishes are virtually identical.
The difference is that the menu at the new place changes more or less daily, according to how the shopping goes. It instils a sense of confidence in a diner and the handwritten menu, with prices all in confident full-dollar amounts, adds to the impression of solid simplicity.
We were joined by a couple of discerning Titirangi foodies who lament the lack of a decent restaurant close to home - I'm picking they'll quieten down about that now - and admired the handsome interior of light and dark woods as we sipped wine from plain old-fashioned tumblers, like the reuseable Marmite jars of the 1960s. It's a homely touch which may not do justice to the wines on the small, interesting list, but it's fun.
The intriguing chickpea-and-mozzarella chips (crunchy without and puffy within, and accompanied by a first-class tomato salsa) made nice nibbles while we checked the menu.
The gnocchi, tagliatelle and risotto selections were complemented by a dish of crepes filled with roast pumpkin and ricotta. The Professor, who seized on these, found them merely tasty but I thought they were sensational - not the buckwheat-flour galettes of the Breton-style creperies around town, but a light, white dough and finished in the oven to a delicious crispness. (The same caramelised finish distinguished the apple and pear crepes we later shared for dessert).
The rest of us tried all the other options - each pasta dish comes in a (generous) small and large size - and we were all much impressed: the leek and chevre risotto in particular was a creamy delight and the combination of raisins and pinenuts with shredded duck leg in the gnocchi sauce was a winner.
The menu also offers two mains - a "steak frites" variant with broken potatoes and a fish, in this case, tarakihi, with spinach mash, which we tried. It, alone in the evening, was something of a disappointment: the black olive salsa rather overpowered the taste of the fish, which was overcooked, or not very fresh or both.
The roaring fire can take the atmosphere beyond cosy and into sweltering, if our experience on a quiet night is any guide and it would probably be sensible to dress accordingly, in layers.
But it is certainly sensible to head up the hill. This may be the best thing to happen to Titirangi since the annual Going West literary festival.
Need to know
The Good: Hearty helpings
The Bad: Noisy when crowded
The Special: The view - bush and beyond Price guide reflects the cost of three courses for one person without drinks.
$ = $20-$40; $$ = $40-60; $$$ = More than $60 Need to know
Titirangi's The Refreshment Room shows up in a blaze of light.