Address: 151 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby
Phone: 09 360 9138
Online: mrtoms.co.nz

I knew as soon as I ate at United Kitchen that it was too good to last. The Professor and I had the place to ourselves when we were there in April and the chef brought our food to the table when he'd finished cooking it and it was magic.

That chef, Tom Williamson, did a sublime three-course menu for $45, for goodness' sake. It was an Auckland version of your Parisian neighbourhood local bistro (though cheaper and better) and now it's gone.

Tom, mercifully, has not. You can tell from the punctuationally challenged name of this place. It's a bar on the street front, where you can eat snacks or get a full-on feed, but if you ring and book they are smart enough to pick that you may be happier in the dining room (the former United), through the back and down a few steps.

Here you will be attended to by a variety of waitresses whose exuberant geniality can be hard to distinguish from harassment. I fancy I am not alone in sometimes wanting to eat my dinner and chat with my pals without constantly being badgered for our views. More on this next week.

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In contrast to the lean bill of fare at United (just two choices at each stage, which took the stress out of ordering: "We'll have one of everything, thanks"), the menu at Mr Toms has something for all tastes. This is no bad thing, of course, although it seems to have lent the food a lack of focus and refinement, and the prices (mains start at $30, sides are around $10 and desserts $15) are not quite as wallet-friendly.

The options, more than a third of which are meat-free, range from the dreaded small plates (quite big, actually) through pizzas to four mains (chook, pasta, beef and fish). It's perfectly good bistro food that never quite ascends to the remarkable.

A moderately good burrata came with heirloom tomatoes, some of which had that vaguely metallic tang of the overripe, and croutons made of meaty wholegrain bread. Courgette flowers done in tempura batter tasted much more of the deep-fryer than the rather stingy quantity of smoked ricotta filling and the salsa verde was an error: deep-fried food cries out for an astringent sauce, rather than more oil.

The 10-pizza selection includes some imaginative toppings (fennel; caramelised pineapple). I went for the simple margherita which was pretty well done, although I fancy the oven ought to have been hotter. But a fist-sized lump of eye fillet with wonderful thrice-cooked chips, and a pappardelle of wild mushroom were state of the art.

Diners may not flock here, but those who do will get a good feed, skilfully prepared. Whether that's enough to ensure the prosperity of a place in this busy part of town remains to be seen.

Dishes: $6-$36