Phone: (09) 638 7593
Rating out of 10: Food: 7, Service: 8, Value: 7, Ambience: 7
There are times when you just have to go with the flow. Faced with choosing dessert at Olaf's, I was steered gently by an enthusiastic waitress into going for the option described as Olaf's favourite. This was Briochesmarrn, a dish of which I had never heard and which is a caramelised brioche pancake with pear compote and vanilla parfait.
As my preference is for what the family know as "sour puds", this was going to be a challenge. The dish was incredibly sweet and rich and the staff's warning that it was not light was well merited. I was very glad it was being shared but it was undoubtedly of high quality and I know people for whom it would have been absolute heaven.
That a pastry dish is a stand-out item is unsurprising, as Olaf's began as an artisan bakery and cafe before joining the trend for businesses that establish themselves as daytime venues to venture into evening hours. Not all of these enterprises are well-founded but this one is, and well-executed.
The menu branches out into more than a dozen shared platters, ranging across a wide geography from bagna cauda, that Piedmontese hot dip with roasted garlic, anchovies and lemon, through to Moroccan fish, Palestinian chicken and a confit duck with savoy cabbage, gnocchi and quince jus. There also are several pizzas all looking fairly simple - and all the better for that.
Seeing as we were in a bakery, it seemed appropriate to start with the pane casereccio. This was a delightfully crispy sourdough to mop up a very smoky eggplant dip, anchovies and a sundried tomato pesto. We had upgraded to the meat option and this provided a small, but tasty, jar of wild boar rillettes and some quality prosciutto and salami. The whole was accompanied by decent olives.
This was a promising start and we were looking forward to the next courses. Several options were tempting but the dish called Assyrian lamb had an irresistible allure. I have always admired the central character of Catch-22 who identified himself as Assyrian, so the thought of a dish from a state which hasn't existed for several hundred years also appealed.
It was a wise choice. The chunks of lamb had been cooked until they were on the verge of falling apart and the broth was earthy, with onions, garlic, coriander and a touch of vinegar sharpness. The accompanying couscous with basil and pistachio was also well above the run of the mill.
There is, however, something wrong with a dish for which the accompaniments are better than the main act. If you advertise something as crispy it should deliver a crunch. The pork was completely lacking in that quality and was slightly dried out. But the accompanying beetroot and red cabbage, cognac plums and roasted small potatoes all received praise.
We were well fed by this time and there was always only going to be just one shared dessert from the choice of four, which included a "deconstructed" apple strudel and a dark chocolate mousse with raspberries. In the interests of Canvas readers, Olaf's favourite won the day and we groaned off, heavily laden into the night.
We had had a relaxed, enjoyable evening with informal cafe-style service enhanced by an informed conversation about one of our wine choices.
Olaf's may have started with an enthusiasm for good bread but its development into wider territory is a bonus for the people of Mt Eden.
Our meal: $125.50 for three shared plates, one dessert and four glasses of wine.
Our wine: An adequate wine list with enough options by the glass. We started with the 2012 Brookfields Bergman Hawkes Bay chardonnay and switched to a decent Mills Reef 2012 cabernet merlot from Tauranga with the Rua 2013 pinot noir from Bannockburn being particularly appreciated.
Verdict: An inventive but unpretentious eatery deserving of a reputation extending beyond the local.