Herald on Sunday Rating: 2.5/5
Address: 7 Sale Street, Freemans Bay
Ph: (09) 307 8148
Website: salest.co.nz

Robert, who couldn't make it, will never know how lucky he was. It was just the Professor and me. And the Professor was missing Robert.

I tried to jolly things along by reminding her of how lovely it was when we last ate in this establishment. It was in the fine-dining restaurant then called Dallow's, where we exulted in the food of Nick Honeyman, who is now wowing them at The Commons in Takapuna.

Dallow's became Cru when Luke Dallow sold his shareholding to his partner, Dominion Breweries, in May last year and Honeyman stayed on for a while, cooking for anyone prepared to endure the booming bass notes of the bar sound system, from which they were insulated by nothing more substantial than a curtain. The food was wonderful, I reminded the Professor. So it was, she said. But it isn't now. She was right about that.

They've changed things a bit since we were last here. Dallow's/Cru used to be on the building's west side, around the back of the bar and slightly out of the crush, so it was only about as noisy as being backstage at a Led Zeppelin concert. But that area's a lounge now and the bistro occupies the spot that was the bar dining room - and where, incidentally, I had a jolly decent feed with a couple of mates not long after Sale St opened.


The rejig, it seems to me, suggests an establishment that has set its sights somewhat lower in the kitchen than in the bar, which, some might argue, is hardly surprising now that a major brewery owns the place. And what came out of the kitchen the night we were there certainly confirmed that impression. It was insipid, lazy food that promised much and delivered little, well short of what you expect from a place claiming to be a bistro.

Our young waiter was obliging to a fault. He had to spend a lot of time shooing out intruders - punters looking for the loos, I suspect - but the rest of the evening he watched us like a hawk and kept asking whether everything was all right, which made me wonder whether there was something I ought to know about.

Because we had arrived early, the music from the bar, beyond a two- metre screen with holes in it, was relatively quiet and so I could hear the Professor very clearly as she reminded me that she had suggested Prego. It wasn't long before I was wishing I'd listened to her.

My entree of kangaroo was a visual catastrophe: a half pear poached in red wine was sliced and fanned out beside small slabs of the cured meat which looked like half-size Tim Tams. The plate was dark brown, and only a small blob of horseradish stopped it from being a black hole into which the entire room disappeared. The taste was beef jerky and the texture classroom eraser, but the pear pushed my 5+-a-day count up and meant I had pudding sorted.

The Professor's home-baked goat cheese consisted of some nice chevre smeared into a small ramekin, drizzled with honey and baked. A topping of a pile of walnuts, which were not freshly shelled, was the most inspired touch. I think you get my drift.

Things could hardly have got worse and, mercifully, they did not. A thick, lean pork cutlet, peppered and grilled, was masterfully moist and juicy. The chef had a right to be proud of the buttery creamed leeks on which they sat, but I thought that sticking a layer of them under the risotto accompanying the Professor's snapper was overdoing it. Perhaps he had made a big pot and wanted to use it up.

That fish was cooked sous vide and finished off nicely in the frypan, but the menu description - "seasonal accompaniments" - gives you an idea of how blandly corporate the approach is here. To say that the Prof, who likes her fish, was impressed would be to overstate it. She wanted me to say she's never found the fish of the day at Prego less than inspired.

We shared a huge slab of liquor-laden tiramisu which was, I think, the highlight of the evening. It's plainly a popular pub, but I'm left wondering: did the heart go out of this place when Honeyman left, or did he leave because it had already gone?