The Wingman
Beresford Square
Auckland Central
Ph: (09) 309 0071

If it had not been for the air quotes, I would have overlooked it. But air quotes are the limit.

At The Wingman for lunch, I asked the waitress whether the chicken that features in several dishes was free-range. She didn't know (minus half a star), but would ask (plus a quarter star).

She returned to tell me that the crispy chicken with Korean sauce wasn't free-range but the barbecue chicken was. How does that work, I wondered aloud. Perhaps because they were different cuts, she suggested. Minus two stars; for saying something really dumb.

I had the Caesar salad, a dish that tells you a lot about whether a kitchen has a handle on the basics. It was good, almost very good. The dressing was tangy, the anchovies and parmesan good-quality, the poached egg rolled to a perfect, prickable ovoid. The promised croutons were missing in action but the toasted sourdough - Wild Wheat, I think - was superb. Add a star, but then take half a star off for the soggy bacon.


Hold it! Bacon. Forgot to check. "Is the bacon free-range?" I asked. Was I "a free-range fan", she replied and did that little air-quote thing with her fingers.

I could have just said that I suppose I must be because I prefer the animals I eat not to have spent their entire lives in accommodation that made it impossible for them to turn around or even move. But I didn't. I just took off seven stars. For the air quotes. I also asked her to check with the kitchen about that bacon. At the time of writing, 26 hours later, she had not returned. If she does, she can have a star back. But only one.

Nothing daunted, I decided to return with the Professor for dinner. Though the place was almost empty, we had to virtually holler to get attention. Our table was cleared only when I, after staring at our dirty dishes for five minutes, stacked them all further down the long table. Nobody seemed to think this remarkable.

We wanted a small plate and a salad (together) and then a burger and a main dish (also together, but later). This quite bamboozled the waiter. I briefly considered a diagram even though his English was impeccable, but a lot of gesturing seemed to take care of it.

No luck. The word "later" got lost in the mix and all four dishes arrived at once. Worse, the main dish, braised calamari with spinach and saffron, was replaced by an entree of deep-fried tempura calamari. The waiter offered to replace it but I felt like crying and the Professor felt like going home so we tooled up and started eating.

The Professor would like to report that the vege burger (caramelised onion, brie, big mushrooms) was terrific. I wished I had ordered a burger, too, and I don't see why I didn't get one just because I had ordered a salad of steamed quinoa.

I will not go so far as to say the quinoa was couscous, since there are varieties of quinoa. But it looked and tasted like couscous to me. It was also cold and cheerless and the "Turkish" touches - spices, feta, dates - were subtly deployed indeed.

Chef Dev Malik's CV takes in The Shed in Te Motu Vineyards on Waiheke Island and Herne Bay Local, so it's hard to understand how he could come up with such a god-awful dish as the feta "beignets". A beignet is made of deep-fried choux batter into which you can mixed blitzed ingredients - prawns, say, or berries. It is not a word for battered cubes of feta with chopped olives, beetroot and raisin. The word for that is "nightmare". A stodgy deep-fried horror that managed to be bland and busy at the same time.

In a triumph of hope over experience, we ordered bread and butter pudding. I know it is my professional duty to tell you what it was like, but, to be honest, there comes a time when even I tire of being unremittingly negative, so I will just say it was sweet and move on.

The strategic location, on the doorstep of what will be the K Rd station if the City Rail Loop happens, should ensure the long-term success of anything operating here.

But for now, it feels like a place where they are going through the motions.