Address: 2A Rattray St Devonport
Ph: (09) 445 1618
The man who answered the telephone at the Olive Press paused when I told him I wanted to book, as if wondering whether I was trying to put one across him. He took my booking, then rang back a few minutes later to ask me whether I wanted to sit outside or inside.
"It's a bit cool," I said. "I think we'll sit inside."
"I'm very sorry, sir," he said. "There are no free tables inside."
I briefly considered the implications of cross-examining him as to why he had rung to offer me the choice, but discarded the idea in favour of saying, "Hmmm, only outside, eh?"
Quick as a flash he said, "As you wish, sir", and hung up before I had time to ask whether there was a third option.
On the restaurant's website is this photo of the courtyard that, by dint of the careful placement of a lemon tree and a bottle of wine in a basket, makes it look rather attractive. The real thing, by contrast, has all the charm of a prison exercise yard.
They had reserved us a pair of small circular tables for two, placed together to create a figure 8. Here Sophie and I sat knee-to-knee while the Professor sat nearby, like someone trying to eavesdrop. This may be the right moment to mention that the interior, which seats at least two dozen, was entirely empty.
We shared the courtyard with a large group dominated by a Pom who loudly and repeatedly sang the praises of Cobb & Co. The thought that someone eating here might be pining for a place that serves deep-fried chicken breast stuffed with apricot and cream cheese filled me with foreboding and my fears were soon justified.
The dolmades were tired and dull, although they might have been worse; I had declined the menu suggestion that paired them with cheese nachos, which is taking fusion too far, I think.
The salmon gravlax purported to be beetroot-cured though its electric-orange colour suggested the application of something else. It tasted of salmon.
Of the main courses, the kindest thing that could be said is that they were large. A slab of pork belly had been slow-roasted to melting perfection, but it was imperfectly crisped on top and if anything other than salt had been added by way of imparting flavour it was too subtle for me to detect. It came on a kumara mash that put me in mind of boarding school.
Sophie's pan-roasted snapper came with watercress, tomatoes and a coriander dressing and she said it was "quite nice". She is very polite, our Sophie. The Professor's lamb cutlets, despite their dukkah crust reminded her of what Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, California: "There is no there there".
A creme brulee was standard but a tarte citron seemed like it might have come from a home cookery in Hamilton in the 1960s. Or Cobb & Co.
Approaching the counter (in the still-half-empty restaurant) to pay, I heard the barman utter a number. It took me a moment to realise that was our bill. I toyed with the idea of explaining that standard practice was to offer a printed document but I imagine they'll work it out for themselves in time. Perhaps they'll learn the meaning of "no free tables" too.
Verdict: Unimaginative and tired