Review: Brownstone, Ponsonby

By Peter Calder

Waiter Ivan Lecanda may have wonderful manners but that's not enough to overcome the Brownstone's culinary problems. Photo / Doug Sherring
Waiter Ivan Lecanda may have wonderful manners but that's not enough to overcome the Brownstone's culinary problems. Photo / Doug Sherring

Address: 108 Ponsonby Rd Ponsonby
Phone: (09) 361 5858
Rating: 2/5

W.C. Fields famously advised, "If at first you don't succeed, try again. Then quit; there's no point in being a damn fool about it." The people behind Brownstone, the third iteration of the garish premises previously dubbed, in chronological order, Prohibition and Nostalgia, should take note.

I shall not revisit my assessments of those unfortunate enterprises, which you may readily find on the Herald website, because I do not believe in kicking a chap when he's down. But if he stands up again, even the Queensberry Rules allow you to take another swing. Here goes:

I wouldn't have noticed Brownstone if they had not invited me. Strictly speaking, they invited the Professor, whose email address they had from a previous booking. "We very much look forward to hosting you", they said, addressing her by name.

The Professor being abroad, I felt it my duty to answer the invitation, which she had forwarded to me. And so it was that I found myself, with one of the Professor's very good pals, taking a seat at a table near the door on the new place's third night.

You may think I should have given them a few weeks to get up and running before visiting. But I reckon if a place is open for business and charging full whack (some restaurants have "soft" opening weeks, in which prices are reduced), they are asking to be assessed by customers. I am one, though unlike most, I record my experience in writing.

And an experience it certainly was. We arrived early to find the place deserted (it was deserted when we left too, save for a couple having a drink who, I think, were friends of the proprietor). And the waiter was plainly delighted to see us.

He was polite to the point of obsequiousness. I don't much like being called "sir" at the best of times - it reminds me of how old I am - but this fellow managed to insert the form of address into every sentence, sometimes twice for good measure.

He was certainly a master of old-world courtesy. When my companion announced the name (the Professor's) that our booking was in, he beamed a welcome and said "Ah, Mr and Mrs [Name]." This was a cause of much silent hilarity, since my companion and the Professor, pioneering feminists both, would be more likely to represent the country in the pole vault than to go by their husbands' names.

I see I've left only 300 words to tell you about the food but this is a happy accident, since it is dispiriting to be cruel at great length.

The chef, Dylan Franklin-Clegg, says he was "trained by" Matt Moran, from Sydney's rightly legendary Aria, although he lists on his CV only a French ski resort, an upmarket catering business and "cooking for Olympic athletes in Japan".

Now far be it from me to suggest that helping rowers carbo-load or cooking catering packs of steak for weightlifters is not a qualification for taking charge of an "exquisite new menu" (their words). But I think I may safely say that to call Franklin-Clegg's food "light and uncomplicated" is a serious misrepresentation. The presence on the bar snacks list of caviar at $250 for 113g (at that price, you would expect them to spell "ossetra" right, wouldn't you?) should be enough to give the lie to that.

I tried some Asian-inspired yellowfin tuna (pickled ginger, cucumber, wasabi jelly), which was perfectly inoffensive and equally unmemorable (except for the $20 price tag). Camille settled on crayfish ravioli, "because I haven't had crayfish for about 20 years", and was severely underwhelmed, as she should have been: I tried a bit and it was so bland it might have been surimi. Watercress and coriander were odd ingredients in a dish made of meat so delicate in flavour.

My confit lamb shoulder looked like and was similar in texture to canned corned beef (except it was grey). The accompanying Du Puy [sic] lentils must have been counted out individually, so mingy was the serving. Potatoes roasted in duck fat were wonderful, but they always are, aren't they?

Some spectacularly complicated desserts were nice to look at but had little else to recommend them. "It was like the 70s," said Camille, as we beat a retreat into the night. I thought that was very kind. I rather liked the 70s.

Verdict: Third time, still not lucky.

- NZ Herald

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