Restaurant review: In the neighbourhood

By Ewan McDonald

Ewan McDonald delivers his verdict on two local eateries, Lokanta and Little Jimmy's
Little Jimmy Bar and Restaurant boasts a Kiwi-only beverage list. Fiona Goodall / Getty Images
Little Jimmy Bar and Restaurant boasts a Kiwi-only beverage list. Fiona Goodall / Getty Images

In the dusty, drowsy village of Cirali, the cook tossed dough on to an aged, floured marble slab and caressed it, ever thinner and thinner, with a thin rolling-pin that might have started life as a broomstick. Satisfied, he slid it into a cavernous wood-fired oven; moments later, the balloon of thin, crispy, sesame-seeded lavas was on the table. With the pepper and aubergine skewer from the hearth and half a dozen other mezze.

At sofas and low tables under trees, the town's relatively few tourists and just as few locals mingled in the warm evening. We might call this the neighbourhood bistro; on Turkey's southwestern coast, it's a lokanta.

Richmond Rd's newest eatery (at time of writing; they come and go) is Lokanta, offering "Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean cooking".

I suspect that's politically courteous; over the years the residents of that region have not always got along, and sometimes it's been over the provenance of recipes.

Its owners have some skin in this game: Clare and sister Sally Hindmarsh opened Caravanserai in Queen St in the late 1980s; the Merchant Mezze Bar, now Mezze in Durham Lane, Bar Comida in Mission Bay, three versions of Tasca, and Casablanca in Sylvia Park. Here, Clare hosts and husband Zeki Kizilata cooks alongside Ali-Fuat Arsan and his wife Michelle of Tasca.

So far as atmosphere goes, Lokanta is pitched just right. It's unassuming, a drop-in centre from breakfast to supper, informal, knockabout tables and chairs, rough-around-the-lintels decor. Everyone might not know your name but they do know which villa you own and what you've done to it.

So far as the food is concerned, I wasn't quite convinced. Smoky eggplant dip (listed in English rather than baba ganoush or hunkar begendi) hit right where it should; so did another vegetable dish, dolma leaves and aubergine crammed with autumnal vegetables, pine nuts, currants, rice, and herbs, , with tzatziki (Greek this time) to bind it.

Meat dishes, though, were bland. Chicken in a creamy walnut sauce is one of the great Ottoman traditions; it needed something to spice it up, probably a fistful of paprika.

The Aegean island goat probably suffered from exactly that; if the star had spent its life clambering up and down clay cliffs, rather than a soft upbringing in Aotearoan meadows, it might have brought some flavour and texture to the party. Full marks, though, for the gutsy pearl-barley risotto.

A word about the desserts. Well, two, and those are "massive" and "sensational". Just as well the olive oil cake sodden in vinsanto and the coconut and almond baklava were large enough for us to split. It might have started another neighbourhood dispute. Another suburb, another bistro, another style.

Little Jimmy, a few doors along Manukau Rd from its parent, the by-now venerable One Tree Grill in Greenwoods Corner, is more designed, a tad upscale (certainly in prices) and way rowdier than Lokanta. That may be because it was jam-packed -- on the Monday night we visited - with louche Epsomites as opposed to those quieter Grey Lynners.

It's very locavore, certainly at the top table: Guy Malyon owns both establishments; manager Nick Harding has been at the Grill over much of the past decade; head chef Mark Nicolson walked a few doors down the street from Raven & Cook.

The community base is furthered with a Kiwi-only beverage list (wines, beers, and yes, spirits) as well as vegetables from One Tree Grill's garden over the road.

Also open from breakfast to supper - and, thank whichever deity you pray to, it takes bookings! Now there's a radical idea for keeping the customer satisfied - you won't be too challenged by anything on the menu.

It's the bistro classics, lamb ribs and roast chicken, each zussed up with high-quality artisan ingredients. Veal schnitzel arrives with horopito, turmeric and capers; that chicken mates with bacon, bread and butter pudding.

There's a lot to like about this place, and we did. Apart from the low lighting and the small, brown type on the brown paper menus. Well, I wouldn't be a critic if I couldn't find something to complain about.

LOKANTA
137A Richmond Rd, Grey Lynn
Tues-Sat from 4pm
lokanta.nz

LITTLE JIMMY
557 Manukau Rd, Greenwoods Corner
7 days, 7am-1am
http://www.littlejimmy.co.nz/

For more reviews and lifestyle stories check out +Plus - in your Herald this Tuesday, 24th May.

- NZ Herald

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