It arrived as fluoro-purple mush topped with bland white mash. The latter claimed to be potato vinaigrette but tasted like boarding school fare; the salmon had definitely been cured in beetroot but also of any notion that it used to be fish.
On my side of the table, Titirangi's newest restaurant was struggling to impress.
The space that used to be Takahe, and before that The Longdrop Bistro, has been reincarnated as Iti. Purchased last year by The Trusts (the West Auckland licensing trusts that operate 14 bars and restaurants including New Lynn's Bricklane and Black Salt), Iti is an all-day eatery that prettily reflects its natural setting.
An enormous pixellated digital print of native bush wraps around the interior and a picture window brings the actual outdoors in. Nothing says suburbia like inspirational word art, but ignore the framed print exhorting patrons to "help yourself to happiness", and, come dusk, the bar feels relaxed and sophisticated. This would be a truly lovely spot for a wine. We, however, were there for dinner.
The man at the bar checked our reservation and gathered up menus. We waited to be seated. Then the man at the bar put down our menus and poured a round of drinks for another table. We waited to be seated.
Our party of five was eventually led to a table for six with water glasses for four, on a fully enclosed deck overlooking Titirangi treetops.
The menu proffers "big" and "little" plates, with scant clues to quantity. Thus, our first course became a kind of loaves and fishes exercise - the division of three wagyu beef open spring rolls ($10), four fig and goat cheese croquettes ($9) and two barbecue pork flatbreads ($10), achievable only because James comes from a very polite family. Weirdly, there was zero competition for that $11 beetroot-cured salmon.
It wasn't all awful. But - barring the crispy, tasty croquettes - it was all fairly ordinary. Top marks for some really beautiful tableware (when it eventually arrived), and, after a shaky start, the waitstaff who inquired politely as to our satisfaction levels and didn't flinch when a main-sized serve of snapper was politely declared too salty.
"We welcome all feedback," she said. I hope she meant it, because our "big" plates were a mixed bag. James' eye fillet steak ($38) was ordered rare and came as a thing of seared and properly-rested beauty. His sister, on a surprise visit from America was ticking off her New Zealand must-haves: good coffee, surf beaches and, on this occasion, a $32 duo of lamb that was declared delicious by both her and her mum. Bryan's market fish with sepia spaghetti ($28) was the prettiest dish on the table, but the seasoning was way-off and every broad bean on the plate was burnt (a Herald photographer had better luck the following week when he shot the image below).
I'd ordered the confit duck leg ($29), partly because it came with sauteed cos lettuce and sweet mash. The crisp against the creamy was sensational. Unfortunately, the duck meat was taught and the skin - that should have been crisp - was blubbery.
Definitely get the vegetable sides. Opinion was divided on the use of flatbread as a crouton ("Croutons should be taken more seriously," said the visitor from America), but the salad they came with was otherwise lovely and huge, as was a plate of charred broccolini ($7).
For better or worse - and if I'm honest, I was anticipating the latter - we ordered desserts to share. Success! A vanilla panna cotta ($11) wobbled like the MasterChef shows say it should, and a basil coulis and macerated strawberry combo sung of summer. Gingerbread brulee ($11) came with a thin layer of cake at the bottom and the crack of torched sugar on top. It was fought over. Politely, of course.