Aside from the exigencies of work, we have little reason to venture to the eastern suburbs. This is our loss, as we discovered on a recent trip to Howick.
We had originally thought to dine at the Bell House, but a fire and the resultant damage have taken this icon off the list of restaurants. Further research indicated that the Fig & Olive might be a good bet instead.
The location, at first glance, seems a little unprepossessing, nestled as it is in a row of shops, but the view - across the road to the old cemetery and church - accompanied by the loudest tui song I think I've ever heard, made it quite delightful.
We sat near the open doors on one of the first balmy evenings where this was an option, ordered drinks, and started on the business of the evening.
The menu is short but covers the essentials: fish, steak, lamb, chicken and vegetarian options, which are particularly well represented in the starter menu.
Bill chose the crispy salt and pepper squid and was somewhat surprised to be brought large battered and deep-fried pieces rather than the more usual squid rings. The batter was light and yes, crisp, and the squid tender - a good trick when you're deep-frying it.
My three filo cigars stuffed with potato, spinach and feta were a little light on the latter and thus rather bland, but the drizzle of sweet chilli sauce fixed this.
The cigars were so uniformly sized and neatly wrapped that I thought they must have been commercially made, but not so. Sam the chef and his team make everything they serve in the restaurant and his way with filo is commendable.
This was demonstrated again in Bill's main course of sultan's boureg - chicken and mushroom lightly spiced with curry, wrapped in filo spirals, and served with mango chutney. It sounds an unlikely combination, but was delicious, and the flavours
blended surprisingly easily.
I'm always a bit dubious about paella, having suffered through some very stodgy efforts in the past. Sam's rendition encourages me to order it more often. The huge mussels were tender and tasty, and the rice not at all gluey. The generous inclusions of strips of squid, tiny clams and shrimps could perhaps have done with a little less cooking time, but the prawns were plentiful and excellent. The whole was bound with a rich but not overpowering napolitano sauce.
It sometimes seems that desserts are rather an afterthought for chefs, and so it was with Bill's baklava. We are used to eating an excellent one made by the folk at our local Turkish takeaway, but the Fig & Olive's rendition suffered by comparison, having rather too much filo wrapping which made the baklava dry and the honey indistinct.
A brandy each, and we were on our way. If I lived in the eastern suburbs of Auckland, the Fig & Olive would be a regular haunt. Although patronage was a little light on the evening we visited, I hope more locals will take advantage of this very good place. c
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $126.50 for two starters, two mains, one dessert, two beers and two glasses of wine plus two brandies.
Wine list: Predominantly New Zealand entries, with little to frighten the horses. Good range by the glass, and very well priced. There was nothing wrong with my Lake Chalice sauvignon blanc.
Verdict: For a suburban eating place, the Fig & Olive does things extremely well. The service is quick and friendly, and the decor, though plain, is comfortable. Howick locals are well served here.