Rating: 2½/5
Address: Kell Drive
Phone: (09) 4146005
Website: solstice.net.nz

Aaah, beef carpaccio. Slices of raw meat so thin as to be translucent are arranged on the plate, just so. You eat them - the best ones practically melt on the tongue - one at a time.

The problem is that carpaccio brings out my inner hunter. As I nibble away, my salivary glands are positively throbbing. I find myself aching to hoover it up by the fistful and call for another kilogram. This can be dangerous when 10 slices cost $28.

They say the dish was invented in 1950 for a fancy lady whose doctor had told her to eat raw meat, and named after an artist whose painting was hanging on the restaurant wall. Fair enough, but I rather think that raw-meat eating has been around longer than that. It was in fashion for a million years or so before someone picked up a bit that had fallen in the fire, thought it tasted all right, and was seized with an irresistible desire to grab a pair of tongs and put on an apron with "King of the Grill" stencilled on the front.

I realise now what the carpaccio at Solstice (it was billed as wagyu beef and venison but it was all-beef) reminded me of: the chef, Kasiano Tagoai, used to preside at the now-defunct Bay Bistro in Mission Bay and I had his carpaccio there, four years ago. Mercifully, he has stopped garnishing it with a small bucketful of salad greens. Nothing wrong with a man sticking to what he does well, of course, but I note that much of the menu at Solstice is the same as it was when another reviewer visited in the depths of last winter. The impression is of a place where everyone is going through the motions.

The service for example, though perfectly efficient, is slightly robotic. Our waiter kept explaining what he was doing - "Just some entree cutlery for you," he said, as he laid the table - like a doctor warning a patient of an imminent uncomfortable insertion - but it meant he kept interrupting us. I felt like saying: "Look, you do your job and I'll do mine", but that would have given the game away.

Likewise, there's no warmth or charm to the food; it's perfectly all right in a mid-90s sort of way, but it leaves you with an uncomfortable sense of deja vu, although the prices are reasonable.

That souffle, for example, was hearty rather than delicate, more flour than egg white, so it tasted like a very light scone. The promised walnut crust on the lamb rump was a none-too-crisp coating of which walnut was not notably a feature. The Professor's "salmon trio" turned out to be a very dense and greasy fish cake; gravlax wrapped around grissini (bread sticks), which was like bad finger food for the opening of a hairdressing salon; and a very yummy warm-smoked fillet on a salad of wild rice and quinoa.

The ambience is a bit of a handicap, I suppose: floor-to-ceiling glazing is unrelieved by curtains or outdoor planting that might soften the view of a car park and characterless shops, and the battery-powered candles are a mistake. But if everyone, in the kitchen and out front, could just liven up a bit, it would be a lot more fun.

The bill

$153.50 for two Souffle $15
Carpaccio $28
Lamb $30
Salmon trio $28
Salad $7
Creme Brulee $13
Wine (2 glasses) $20.50
Water $8.50
Coffee $3.50

Ambience: Comfortless.
Vegetarians: Two entrees and an unspecified main.
Watch out for: Battery-powered candles.
Bottom line: Competent but without flair.