Address: 165 Ponsonby Rd
Ph: (09) 360-1611
It's easy to overlook places that have been round a while in this city of ever-opening restaurants, but we'd been hearing good things about the Ponsonby Road Bistro - and on past performances it certainly deserved another visit.
One of the first things we noticed was the relatively new layout which cuts down the bar area and allows more room for the tables that line the walls. Our banquette was exceptionally comfortable, the lighting was excellent and it wasn't too noisy either. So after a few sips of a delicious spiced pear bellini at the bar, we moved to our table, to be greeted by the Bistro's new autumn menu.
Stylishly handwritten by their star waiter, the menu features around five entrees, most of which can be transformed into main courses, plus five main course options. I began with the manti, which was new to me. It turned out to be four or five generous-sized parcels of pasta filled with pumpkin and lentils then finished with pine nuts and herbs. The whole thing was cooked to al dente and drizzled with a sizzling chili and yoghurt sauce. We all tried it and all declared it unusual, exotic and probably the perfect entree.
Meanwhile Brian was impressed with his crisp-crumbed and pinkish calves liver, Marcus dived into "today's shellfish" (in this case a huge bowl of clams) and Andrea gasped at the size of her chicken liver pate, served like a scoop of icecream - glossy, rich and perfect. We sat back, fearing we may have over-ordered, such was the size of the dishes.
But we needn't have worried. Even though our main courses were equally generous, they tasted so good we kept right on eating. I had the Malaysian lamb shank curry, which was served with coconut rice and topped with a crunchy, cucumber and coriander salad. Again the dish was permeated with exotic flavours that I couldn't quite identify and that stayed strong throughout the meal.
Both men had the other knockout dish. Named cazuela, this was a real bloke's blend of seafood, pork belly, chickpea and chorizo, enriched with aoli and lemon. The cazuelas arrived in big, shallow bowls, with triangles of toast arranged to look like sails poking out the top. Again they were first class.
Only Andrea's steak with chunky chips could be described as ordinary, and actually it was an excellent example of a medium-rare scotch fillet. How do good chefs manage to season steak all the way through?
This was a meal we'll remember, both for the brilliant service and the exciting, beautifully cooked food. Our desserts may have been classics, but the creme brulee was an exquisite example of the art: crisp, golden topping, velvety warm (rather than abruptly cold) custard beneath. The warm Valrhona chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce and creme fraiche was excellent too.
All told, this was a superb night out. The atmosphere was buzzy and cool without being loud, the food was brilliant and tasty without being pretentious, the prices reasonable - especially for such generous portions - and the service, especially if your waiter is the maitre d' who also handwrites the menus, is outstanding.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $348.50 for a beer, a Bellini, a gin and tonic and a bottle of Cape Mentelle Zinfandel plus four entrees and main courses and two desserts.
Wine list: A wide-ranging choice including some off-beat and interesting labels from here and overseas.
Verdict: This bistro just gets better. In Ponsonby's fast-moving restaurant roulette, the Bistro has carved itself a rock-solid reputation. It continues to upgrade its menu and excite its patrons, year in, year out.