Let it never be said that I can't find a decent table and wine list, no matter how challenging the assignment, and catching up with a friend in northernmost Waikato on a winter Sunday afternoon - that's a challenging assignment.
For my idea of a Sunday lunch is lengthy, languid and presupposes liquid. Which is why I usually host them at my place, Turtle Pond. That wasn't a practical option so - "Bracu," I suggested, and she agreed, possibly because my only other option was catching up at the McDonald's in Mercer, and you try doing a five-hour Sunday lunch there.
At once refined and comfortably rustic in the Simunovich olive estate amid the Bombay hills, Bracu has the reputation of being rather upmarket. Put that to one side, and look at the founding family's tradition: Croatia.
The family has re-created the sort of place from their homeland where there are friends or couples and, at the next table, sisters and cousins and grandchildren celebrating Eleanor and Arthur's golden wedding.
The staff know to bring water and not to bother approaching for at least half an hour while we catch up with the doings of the months since we last caught up, and then to approach discreetly and suggest we might like to look at the wines by the glass, and perhaps consider food, because if we don't order soon, the golden wedding party will, and the kitchen is likely to ...
So we nod and pick up the menus, and put them down again, and pick up the conversation where we left off. We will get around to ordering sometime, and the black-skirted and stockinged staff know it. We opt for the three-course degustation: vegetarian entree, delightfully heavy on mushrooms and herbs; a lamb-based main with roasted vegetables; a dessert that leans towards things done with fruit and not too much dairy.
Happily, those are what the chefs do best. This is a farmer's market kitchen with more than a few thought-out, stylish twists.
We appreciate the staff. All are clearly local, like to chat, and they shimmer with pride for the restaurant and their area. They want us to like what they do here.
I know you expect a quirky anecdote to end these columns, so here it is. Not once but twice I've driven home from Bracu, ferreted around the car and been unable to find my glasses. So I've emailed or phoned them, and they've come back with "Sorry, no ..." both times. So, expensive lunches. But worth it.
CAUGHT up with a friend the other day for 'coffee and a bite'. It had been yonks, although I'm not entirely sure how a yonk is defined. Each of us is rather sensitive on the subject of years these days.
(I am going to digress: that is why I have put the parentheses up. Lies, cheap shots and vile calumnies are too often spread around the theme of journalists and their lunches. As the sentence above shows, they do not always involve alcohol. Even when I reached the rarefied heights of Editor-in-Chief - hyphens and capitals optional - I eschewed strong drink before elevenses. Unless one was invited to a champagne breakfast, but that was never more than twice or three times a week.)
"Have you noticed," she said as we graced the electrified, revolving portals of the art gallery, "how the M--- chain is taking over almost every interesting and independent cafe in town?"
"You're not wrong," I said, partly because she almost never is, and partly because if she were to be, it would be less than gallant to point it out. "I was in the city library yesterday, and their cafe; is a branch of E------'s."
We thought about it as she enjoyed her cinnamon brioche, which my mother used to make on Saturday mornings but called a pinwheel, and I wrestled with my ham and cheese toastie and pondered how much better off we'd have been if Mum had been able to charge $7.50 a whack for the ones she churned out of the family sandwich-maker.
"It's rather ironic," my friend said, for she uses words correctly, "that the art gallery and the library, which consider themselves pillars of the artistic ethos, are happy to have their cafes run by big-business, corporate, cookie-cutter franchises."
"Rather than artisans?" I said. "Of course, artisan originally meant 'workman'. Funny how its meaning has evolved to the total opposite - craftsman or artiste."
She delicately twiddled the Earl Grey teabag in her cup. I removed strands of molten cheese from my cheek. We agreed: it would be appropriate if the art gallery, library and museum valued their comestibles at a level of integrity similar to the treasures within. It could be worse. Just imagine if the hospital thought it acceptable to have a McDonald's or a Muffin Break in its foyer.