My mate Tom reckons I should always start off saying something nice. It goes against the grain, as I'm sure he knows (that's why he says it) but I hope he's reading this because something really nice happened at The Commons. Our waitress was unaffected and down-to-earth, and had an instinctive feel for the boundary between friendliness and intrusiveness.
She's too good for the place, really, by which I mean that, to put it as mildly as I can, The Commons ain't what it used to be. When it opened, almost exactly four years ago, I was very enthusiastic about Nick Honeyman's irresistibly interesting food. But Honeyman's long gone now, to Herne Bay via the Dordogne, and so is his tucker.
I hasten to add that I don't think the incumbents are trying and failing to achieve the high standards he set. They are aiming at something close to bog-standard gastropub and they're doing a pretty poor job of it. The menu, badly spelled (Wakanue; cassolet; brased) is a blizzard of gratuitous capital letters and a concatenation of culinary cliche (boozer-friendly platters; burgers and steaks; the exotica include mushroom arancini).
The menu is not on the website. In fact bugger-all is: the "book now" button had, at the time of writing, been returning an error message for a fortnight and the answerphone, announcement when you ring to book, takes about 500 words to say, in essence, "We can't be bothered."
The flush buttons in the toilets are worn, there was no soap in the dispenser and the place is colder than charity.
In the kitchen, in plain view, two chefs struggled to keep up. We waited 45 minutes for food when only a few tables were occupied. When everything we had ordered finally landed, all at once, there was barely enough room on our table-for-four, though we were only two.
No one mentioned that our combination of orders contained enough accompanying bread to cater a scout jamboree and we might like to make amendments. Most of what we did get was unremarkable and expensive: a slab of baked hapuka little bigger than a golf ball, on a stew of chickpea and chorizo was $34 (by contrast, half a large butternut, baked and topped with romesco sauce was big enough for a meal and cost $9).
Southern-style fried chicken with sweetcorn gravy was distressingly dry, gnocchetti with pumpkin puree tasted of, well, of nothing really and there was neither pepper nor parmesan at hand to liven it up. Only the combination of buffalo curd with smoky eggplant offered something original, though there was no faulting a chocolate fondant rich enough to induce a diabetic coma.
The Commons led a dining-out renaissance in Takapuna, but perhaps the locals prefer beer-hall grub. As a restaurant, it's slack and second-rate.
Snacks $6.50-$15; boards $25-$35; dishes $9-$42
VERDICT: A good restaurant reinvented as a mid-grade gastropub.