Address: 432 Richmond Rd, Grey Lynn
Phone: (09) 360 0488
Rating out of 10: Food: 7, Service: 7, Value: 7, Ambience: 7

On its appropriately minimalist website, Monterey describes its food as "bare bones cookery". This label could be attached to their whole act.

The menu is disarmingly simple. No flowery descriptions. One dessert simply says "icecream" and another, more elaborately, promises "icecream and cake". One small plate is just "peanut slaw".

The decor is monochrome grey and there are just two pictures, a large, old aerial cityscape and a painting of a cat.

This is another in the growing line-up of coffee houses and lunch venues that have branched out into offering evening meals with small plates being an essential feature.


Like its peers, Monterey also offers a small selection of main dishes, which change by the day. On our visit there were just four: sticky pork ribs with potato and herbed feta, pan-seared hoki with couscous and pomegranate, roast polenta, salad and poached egg and a vegetarian or beef burger with fried potatoes.

I went for the hoki, a budget-priced fish that rarely appears on restaurant menus. I find the flavour acceptable if not distinguished and the texture can be fibrous but this was well cooked, moist without being slimy.

The accompaniment was excellent, the couscous fragrant with basil, nasturtium and a lingering dill note, and the pomegranate seeds added a touch of sweetness and bite.

For our other main we opted for the vegetarian burger. Our amiable waiter couldn't tell us everything that was in it but it was more like a potato hash cake than a burger patty, smothered in melted mild cheese and topped with a bright red spiced relish.

Now it might be my one quarter Irish heritage but I am incurably fond of potatoes and frequently am disappointed with the offerings in restaurants where the compulsion to make sure vegetables are not overcooked often goes too far with the spud.

Here, the side dish of fried potatoes was simply delicious - and I use the word "simply" carefully. Although it wasn't my side order, I hoovered up most of it, arguing that with the hamburger bun and potatoes we didn't want to risk overdoing the carb-loading, given that no ironman participation was on the agenda.

We had started with the small plates. The fish balls were crispy and the filling was full of flavour and the spiced potato mayo set them off well. They were also more generously supplied than in many of Monterey's rivals, which was a trait displayed elsewhere, making this a good value-for-money venue.

Our other first course brought back memories of my school history master citing the salt tax as a spark of the French revolution. We could have done with it here, as the crusting on the lavash-style cracker that accompanied the smoked fish rillette completely overpowered the subtlety of the pleasant soft pate.

As I have mentioned, the servings were generous and we were unable to tackle anything as substantial as the cake, the warm raspberry madeleines or the apple crumble, although that on a neighbour's plate looked wholesome.

Most of those neighbours seemed to be locals and although by no means full on our visit this place does have the feel of a local eatery with a dedicated following.

The local and simple approach is also a feature of their wine list, about the smallest I've seen apart from at a pizzeria in Hokitika. As I remember, not one of the wines came from further away than Matakana, with Awhitu, Clevedon and Karaka also figuring.

A couple of affogatos sent us into the night with the familiar thought that this is a place I'd be glad to have in my neighbourhood - although I'm not sure I'd travel too far to get there.

Our meal: $127 for two starters, two mains, two affogato and four glasses of wine.

Wine list: A tiny list with wines from vineyards close to the Auckland region. The Serendipity sauvignon blanc from Karaka was well balanced and the Serendipity chardonnay and an example from Te Awhitu provided a contrast. There are also craft beers on offer.

Verdict: Simple but sound good-value food served in a relaxed atmosphere.