Our local pub, The Riverhead, has been become extremely popular over the last few years. Far from a bikers' hangout, it's now building a reputation for excellent pub food and innovative ideas, including a round-trip special where townies can take a ferry trip that gets them to The Riverhead by lunchtime and home well before dinner.
I'd been to the restaurant twice for lunch and had a great time, especially a few weeks ago when the food seemed to have improved a couple of notches, so off we went with our friends from Whenuapai for dinner.
By the time we arrived at 7pm the carpark was nearly full and you could hear the buzz from the bar. As we walked through the door into the restaurant, The Landing, which is next door to the pub, the warm and cosy atmosphere pulled us in. This time we weren't on the terrace overlooking the river, which is no bad thing in winter. Instead we had a table near the bar with its team of good-looking young waiters, who settled us in and left us to study the menu.
This is a step up from the usual pub food. The fish of the day was kingfish and the menu included fashionable favourites like pork belly, lamb shanks and the smoked duck with crushed Maori potatoes that had delighted me last time. They also offer wine matches for most dishes.
Prices, however, are definitely pub rather that haute cuisine - the boar belly entree was $15, and the main-sized Caesar salad with prawns $16. A glass of rather good Montana pinot gris was $8, while a bottle of Church Road chardonnay was $52.
I started with calamari, which was served in a cute little bucket with a small bowl of aioli. Little sign of salad unfortunately. Nor, I'm sorry to say, could I detect the paprika in the crunchy coating. And it was a bit chewy.
Eugene's mussels were a little overcooked and were outshone by the delicious coconut curry sauce.Suzanne's chicken salad was delicate, beautifully presented and tasted fabulous, as did Brian's boar belly, served with an onion marmalade.
Everyone was having a damn fine time. The atmosphere was informal and fun, with many family parties among the crowds of adults.
The tables were full, the service relaxed, efficient and Westie through and through. For example, when I asked if my pinot gris was sweet or dry, our young man gave me a broad grin, saying, "Sorry, I'm not too good on the wines. I drink my red wine with lots of coke."
He also asked us if we'd like our main courses immediately after our entrees and when we asked for a break, gave us exactly the right amount of time to discuss the latest excitement in journalism.
This time Suzanne had the main-sized serving of calamari, which was as unexciting and elastic as my entree, while Eugene had what he described as an "awful" Caesar salad. The seven accompanying spicy prawns were lacking in any spice but his main complaint was the fact that the entire dish was swimming in dressing. Every lettuce leaf was dripping. Many people order salads when they want something light and, while a Caesar, with all that bacon and croutons is rarely low-calorie, this transformed it into heart attack material.
Brian complained that his slow-cooked lamb shanks hadn't been cooked long enough and were tough, while my kingfish was dry and overcooked. On the upside, our side of potatoes, that had been boiled then roasted with rosemary, were delicious.So was our chef's dessert platter. I particularly enjoyed the lemon posset.
Next time we'll be having the tried and true burgers and the smoked duck salad, which are outstanding.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $294 for four entrees and main courses, plus two side dishes, a chef's dessert platter and another of little bites, one bottle and one glass of wine, a gin and tonic and a bottle of San Pellegrino fizzy water.
Wine list: Basic and reasonably priced, plenty of beers to choose from.
Verdict: Great pub, great position, great prices, but the kitchen made too many basic mistakes.