Remuera, I have an apology to make. Despite living in Auckland for many years, I have never considered travelling across town to your gold-paved streets to dine. To be honest, before last week, I would have struggled to name one restaurant in your upmarket, elegant suburb. But after my visit to one of your long-standing establishments, The Maple Room, last week, boy have I seen the light.
Yes, Remuera is home to one of the finest neighbourhood restaurants any part of Auckland would be proud to call their own. This little gem is tucked away in a small group of shops on Upland Rd in an area which reminded me a little of Five Ways in Sydney's Paddington.
Tonight - a Thursday - we're surprised to find the place is heaving, with small groups who are obviously regulars. Parking is hard on those leafy streets - I'm glad I rang ahead to make a booking.
After making our way past the inviting outdoor tables we're seated right down the back of the tastefully decorated restaurant. This is a bit of a shame as it's all going on up front, but an hour or so into service the staff turn on some music, which helps the ambience.
The black-clad waitresses are young, friendly and enthusiastic, though not all completely well-versed on the wine list or menu. A quick sprint to the kitchen or the bar though, and any questions are cleared up.
We decide to skip entrees and opt instead for some sharing plates, starting with the chef's selection of four tapas. Tonight this is made up of crispy beef wontons, slightly bland salmon skewers topped with a beetroot puree, meatballs with pesto, and feta and artichoke baby potato cups. I never thought I'd describe meatballs as melt-in-your-mouth but the delicately seasoned offerings here do exactly that. The star of the show though are the potato cups which are stuffed with the feta and artichoke. The combination of the two is a treat for the tastebuds.
Our other tasting plate - local buffalo mozzarella, roma tomatoes, rosemary, basil and sourdough is fairly standard but well executed and fresh.
A respectable amount of time passes while we enjoy the extensive wine list - there aren't many options by the glass, but what there is available is top-notch - before our well-presented mains arrive.
There are many different flavours going on in the barbecued lamb rump dish which features rare cuts of meat atop roasted field mushrooms and Israeli couscous. The accompanying whipped feta is a revelation when combined with the lamb. We wonder why the deliciously tender slow-roasted duck is served with more meat - a pork and orzo sausage - but you almost need the complete contrast to offset the strong taste of the duck.
The subtle quince and ginger jus is also a welcome addition to the dish.
There is no pasta in sight in my cannelloni. Instead, slices of eggplant are rolled around tomato and and goat's cheese, topped with croutons, micro greens and slivered almonds. I found the tomato a bit chunky and soggy and the croutons perhaps unneccessary, but the eggplant and hint of dill are both lovely.
Unfortunately our side of cumin-roasted baby red king potatoes is underwhelming with a smoky taste superseding any other flavours, and we give up on them after a few bites.
Despite feeling rather full we find a tiny bit of room to share dessert, and we're glad. The white chocolate mousse with raspberry and coconut and a burnt orange sauce is probably our favourite dish of the night. The artfully presented pud is topped with a puff of white candy floss (possibly Persian) - and the burnt orange sauce and raspberry pop when combined with the mousse.
Our other choice - fresh lime creme brulee - is also excellent, and large enough for everyone to have a few happy mouthfuls.
The Maple Room knows exactly what it's doing, and does it very well. The simple, tasty food is packed with flavour and well presented, in a classy and sophisticated environment. Remuera, you're very lucky indeed to have such a fine restaurant in your neighbourhood.
Wine: Excellent list with plenty of local options including a selection of French, Spanish, and Australian wines
From the menu: Local buffalo mozzarella, roma tomatoes, toasted rosemary and olive sourdough ($24.50); small tapas plate ($29.50); barbecue lamb ($35); slow-cooked duck ($35); eggplant and goat's cheese cannelloni ($29.50); cumin roasted baby red king potatoes ($9); fresh lime creme brulee ($11.50) and white chocolate mousse ($11.50)