When you have spent a tough day in the office helping the economy to recover from the financial crisis, a drink or two with fellow toilers in the vineyard of global capitalism often seems a good idea. After the drink or two, it often seems a good idea to take a little food.
There was a time when this meant a bag of crisps and a few peanuts. Now, in the gastro bar world, we are talking about tapas and sharing plates drawn from international cuisine. Such is the style of Libertine in the rising Victoria Park Quarter and on our visit it proved to be a decent example of its type.
Admittedly we went in the quietish post-holiday period and so didn't have a long wait for a table, as this is one of those establishments which do not take bookings, a trend popular with restaurant owners, if not always quite so pleasing for customers. But one of the four of us had been before in the busy time and reported the wait then was acceptable.
We did, however, enjoy a pre-dinner drink on the large deck. The view's not great unless you're keen on motorways but on a warm evening the fresher air was pleasant. The interior decor is striking, making use of an industrial exposed brick and steel atmosphere but without being too stark. It is comfortable and, remarkably, given its cavernous style, the acoustic is forgiving and you can converse at normal volume.
The service was informal and suited the nature of the place without being inefficient, although it is worth pointing out there was not much pressure on.
When we got round to eating, the food turned out to be rather better than we thought it might be. There is a vaguely Latin American character to it but a catholic range of influences. The shared plates are, one assumes, the main business but there is a small selection of main courses and they list a rotisserie dish which changes daily.
We started with a handful of the shared plates which were mostly good with one or two something above that standard. I fancied the jerk chicken but was advised against it by our companion who had been before. The tempura softshell crab, however, was great - piping hot with crisp light batter. The calamari with olives and chorizo was standard issue but perfectly acceptable and the snapper ceviche had the essential clean freshness.
The paella was more like a risotto, lacking that caramelised edge, although one of us detected some crispness in her portion, and I thought the curried goat croquettes were tasty even if others dissented.
A decent chorizo always cheers up a dish and it went well with the big Atlantic scallops, which came from the entree listing and were served with succotash of corn and beans.
We went for a vegetarian option with a baked eggplant offering, on which the verdict was "there's nothing happening here", a comment some of us find recurring regularly with eggplant.
Also from the mains section we tried the Scotch fillet with a chimichurri dressing of garlic and parsley. The meat was good quality and cooked as requested, receiving a satisfactory rating from a customer who is not always easy to please.
This selection was more than enough although we did top off the evening with some decent truffles. As befits a venue with an emphasis on its bar character the drinks list is good and they have a decent beer range, the James Squire pilsner being particularly welcome on a muggy Auckland night.
As a retreat at the end of a busy day for hard-pressed city types, Libertine is a lively watering hole with food that is worth trying.
Our meal: $297.50 for four sharing plates, one entree and three mains, a bottle and three glasses of wine and three beers.
Wine list: Plenty of choice. We started with a pleasing Cotes du Rhone rose and followed with a good Trinity Hill Hawkes Bay Gimblett Gravels chardonnay. Their own Albermarle pale ale is a decent drop and they seem to take their cocktails seriously.
Verdict: A thoroughly professional venue well pitched for the 30-plus crowd.