A dozen men and a million dollars worth of machinery have been in my street for a fortnight, taking up the bluestone kerbs and relaying the concrete gutters. It looks very smart, I must say, but it didn't look bad before and the stormwater always ran unproblematically down the roadside channels.
I understand the wisdom of spending public money on infrastructure to stimulate economic activity, but surely there are better projects than replacing gutters that already work?
That flash new extension to the Northwestern Motorway, for example, seems like money very well-spent. The vege and fruit growers along the Massey end of SH16 may disagree, but it makes the trip to Kumeu a breeze. And so it was as I headed out through last Sunday's gathering polar storm with a hard-to-please foodie mate in tow.
Ribier - the name derives from an obscure French grape, I gather - occupies the premises of an unadmired Turkish place that closed a year or so. New owners Eugene and Anna Sokolovski are certainly keen: the restaurant is open seven days, from 4pm weeknights and from noon Friday to Sunday. "When do you rest?" I asked Eugene when I was booking and his response suggested he didn't grasp the concept.
They seem to have done little by way of refurbishment, but it's a pleasant enough room with pine-slab steakhouse-style tables and dark walls displaying the work of local artists. The small heater struggled to warm the space - though, to be fair, it was the coldest night of the winter so far - and the bright lights glaring from the open kitchen rather compromised any atmosphere.
Chef Eugene, Russian-born but raised in Moldova and trained in Europe, has been here for eight years. He's a skilled operator, all right - perhaps to a fault; see below - and the only Auckland-region finalist in this year's Monteith's Beer and Wild Food (his dish, named the Royal Hare Force in a nod to nearby Whenuapai, is oddly not on the menu, though).
From the smallish menu (four $17 entrees, 10 $29 mains), I chose pan-roasted sweetbreads, which came with soft and juicy prunes. It was a happy combination and the sweetbreads - crisp on the outside and still firmly textured rather than mushy - were sensational. My pal's snapper tortelli were less impressive - indeed I had to remind her what they contained, so indistinct was the taste. But the (house-made) pasta was good and the dish, drizzled in lemon sauce and hazelnuts, looked pretty.
The mains list had two duck dishes: one was a confit leg with a parsnip and vanilla puree and poached pear, and another featured cured breast meat, which my mate decided was for her. It came with white beans that seemed rather grievously overcooked; so swollen that I at first mistook them for gnocchi, but the meat was adjudged superb - the skin fatty, but not cloyingly so; the flesh juicy, but not aggressively bloody. My beef, a thickly cut piece of eye fillet, was cooked to the perfection the chef's CV encouraged me to expect.
For all that, the food put me in mind of some provincial places where it's all a tad overwrought: my beef came topped with a raspberry-and-onion jam and a cube of gorgonzola - a gilding of the lily that seems a bit dated. It was atop a gratin of kumara and taro - a nice idea - but the only side of vegetables on offer incorporated roast carrot and parsnip, which was far too much, and it was only with some difficulty that I managed to persuade them to serve me a bowl of steamed greens.
The showiness worked well at dessert time - a freeze-dried mandarin and spoonful of home-made orange jam lent a welcome astringency to a sensational chocolate marquise - but I think that in some of the other dishes, less might be more. Still, Ribier is a nice addition to the area and worth the drive.
Need to know
$ = $20-$40; $$ = 40-60; $$$ = $60+.
(Price guide reflects three courses for one person without drinks.)
Address: 393 State Highway 16
Ph: (09) 412 7206
Address: 791 State Highway 16
Ph: (09) 411 7953