Address: 269 Parnell Rd, Parnell
Phone: (09) 373 3883
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I've had some superb meals in Parnell. On balance, I think I've had more bad food there than good but, fussy bastard that I am, I could probably say that about any stretch of street in town.

When I heard that a new Greek restaurant had opened in the old Iguacu building, I felt quite excited - and not just because it meant I would never have to eat at Iguacu again. For reasons I've never understood, there are no Greek restaurants in Auckland. The few that come close - Lokanta in Grey Lynn is a good one - are actually Turkish, even if some dishes differ from Greek ones only in their name.

I don't know why this should be so. The census counted 2500 who identified as Greek. Yes, half are in Wellington, but only 3600 identified as Italian and you can't move in Auckland for Italian restaurants.

I longed for a place like Pireaus Blues in Fitzroy in Melbourne: an unpretentious family-run joint with crookedly hung pictures of forebears on the wall, where fried halloumi wrapped in strips of grilled eggplant or lamb cutlets drizzled with lemon juice are washed down with wine from three-litre bottles on the counter.

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Gerome is not one of those and that's part of what doesn't quite work. Its website says head chef James Kenny's food is "loosely based on [the flavours of] the Greek islands", where dining customs would make Pireaus Blues seem positively uptight. But it's all done with such high-end panache as to feel strained.

It seems churlish to complain that a restaurant is too snazzy, but the food seems to want to be in another place altogether. It has raffish, demotic origins, but it's dressed up so fancy, it can't let its hair down and have a little fun.

We were at Gerome on night three and perhaps they were on their best behaviour: six staff members bade us good evening as we were led to our table. It was close to an honour guard and, no, they hadn't recognised me at that point but they may have later: the hostess' inquiry as to whether everything had been satisfactory was equal parts anxious and menacing.

The interior, by Paul Izzard, is all plush velvet booths and brass fittings and the waiters wear long aprons. It looks like a high-end Hollywood cocktail bar and not like any Greek restaurant I've seen.

It is not, however, high-end enough to know that many diners want their oysters left alone. Ours came with sherry vinegar on, although it didn't say so on the menu and I had specified to the waiter that I wanted them uncorrupted.

I had not heard of lakerda, though later research tells me that it is a Balkan dish of pickled fish. Kenny's version is closer to ceviche, but it uses raw salmon - a fish whose oiliness makes it unsuitable for the job - and swamps it in a bland mayo-like sauce that pretty much obscures the taste of the fish. Quite what a nice avocado sorbet was doing on the plate, I have no idea, but I was longing for something piquant to give the whole thing a lift.

A better balance was achieved by flame-grilled piper, which reminded me of catches charcoal-grilled on Mediterranean wharfs. The flesh is easily peeled from the delicate skeletons and paper-thin pickled veges made for a perfect balance of tastes.

John dory with pinenuts, capers, raisins, braised chicory and turnip puree. Photo / Getty Images
John dory with pinenuts, capers, raisins, braised chicory and turnip puree. Photo / Getty Images

Burnt eggplant was true to its name, its exterior incinerated until the flesh within turned soft, and then peeled and served with its stalk intact: with a tahini cream, pine nuts and white raisins, it was perfect peasant food. Skin-on john dory had spent perhaps 30 seconds too long in the pan and came on a bed of corn kernels that seemed suspiciously generous, given the season and probably came from a can.

I finished with a very delicate cucumber sorbet, which allowed me to feel virtuous for the few seconds before I began shovelling spoonfuls of the cheekily named "Hellenic mess" the Professor had ordered: a riot of blackberry, figs, meringues and cream, it was sensational.

Gerome has given Auckland something it has in abundance: a moderately good meal in snazzy surroundings with a massive cocktail and wine list. But the city still doesn't have a Greek restaurant.

Smaller $13-$19; larger $18-$37; sides $6-$8; desserts $15.

Verdict:

I'm not sure the Greeks had a word for something this smart