For some reason, "couch potato" seems to be regarded as a term of abuse. When the Auckland winter is as vile as it can be, sitting comfortably in front of the log burner seems a perfectly sensible choice. So when you do drag your backside off the settee to eat out, you hope the trip will be worth the effort.
When we walked into Bowmans it seemed plenty of other people had galvanised themselves into action too. It was full and had a cheerful bustle about it. But our good mood slowly disappeared as we sat and sat and sat with no water, no wine, nor even a wine list to consider what we would have liked if we ever received a drink.
It became clear later than there had been an unavoidable staff crisis, there were apologies and a determined effort made to make amends. But by then the damage had been done, with the breach of the basic principle that customers will generally put up with a delay if they are sat down with a drink in front of them and don't feel abandoned.
This was a shame because the food was more than reasonable, competently cooked and presented with some imagination, and we have previously found Bowmans to be a better than average neighbourhood restaurant and expect to find it so again.
Our spirits did lift with a pleasant little salmon amuse bouche and my temper improved further with my first course of a generous and well-flavoured salmon ceviche, topped with avocado, yoghurt and wasabi.
Beetroot continues to exercise Auckland chefs and here it came in baby form, glazed and interestingly paired with the Spanish manchego cheese, a chickpea purée and walnuts and orange.
The main course delivered five options, one each of fish, vegetarian, duck, beef and lamb. The special of roasted snapper with a risotto cake sounded good but it was really a meat night so the lamb rump rose to the occasion. This was served with a tasty glazed rib and toasted almonds which were a nice crunchy addition. The chickpea purée and yoghurt were pressed into service again but were reasonable complements to the meat - which was good, if not sensational.
Our other main course was the beef. Described as dry aged New York strip, it turned out to be surprisingly chewy but full of flavour. It looked a touch bare on the plate - "just a slab of meat" was the visual verdict - but that was because most of the accompaniment of mustard spaetzle, mushroom and pancetta came served as a side dish and they lifted the whole to a different level.
We had passed on the side dishes to make way for dessert and the chocolate mousse with a sweet cannelloni and a vivid coffee cream was well received.
I have commented before on the excellence of the cheese offered here and I was more than pleased with my usual choice of gorgonzola dolce paired with a fine, firm Ossau-Iraty Basque sheep's milk cheese. They made a good ending to an evening that fell at the first hurdle but recovered to finish honourably, if not in the running for a medal.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $219.50 for two first courses, two mains, one dessert and a cheese plate, and five glasses of wine.
Wine list: A good list if a little limited in the glass selection. The special, a Waimea Golden Hills pinot gris, was well worth its spotlight status and the Darling pinot noir and the St Hallett Barossa Shiraz held their own with the meat dishes.
Verdict: A lively neighbourhood restaurant with elevated ambitions, which obviously draws customers from outside the local orbit, most of whom were well pleased.