Deco Eatery
Lopdell House
418 Titirangi Rd, Titirangi
Ph: (09) 817 2664
decoeatery.co.nz

Getting invited out to dinner by a restaurant reviewer is not as good as it sounds. Frank Bruni, the erstwhile restaurant critic at the New York Times, made all the ordering decisions and his companions had to pass their plates clockwise on instruction.

I am not so autocratic, but I have rules: duplicate orders are forbidden; ordering unusual or adventurous dishes is preferred and sometimes required; the ratio of fish to meat to poultry may get tuned.

The Professor needs restraining from her default order of salmon, but is otherwise very biddable when eating out, which makes a change from her everyday orneriness. And I thought it best to warn the two Titirangi locals who I invited to the newly opened Deco that I might overrule their choices, because they are dedicated foodies and their strong views about what they wanted might get in the way. In the event they were as meek as lambs.

Deco has taken over the space inside the entrance of the Titirangi landmark Lopdell House, which now nestles in the lee of the quite magnificent new art gallery, Te Uru Waitakere. The old building has a proud hospitality tradition: it started as a hotel and was a tearoom before becoming an educational institution (a school for the deaf and later a venue for in-service teacher training).

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The restaurant - in the former gallery and gift-shop space - has been handsomely refurbished, although the white-walled look may be a bit cold come winter. It was certainly perishingly cold when we were there during the season's first cold snap a couple of weeks ago, and when we suggested to the waiter that the front door might be better closed, he seemed bewildered. "It's the front door," he wailed, as if that explained everything, but he did move us to a less exposed table.

Deco is the new venture by Alex Isik, whose dozen-strong suburban chain of Mozaik cafes bear only the faintest trace of his Turkish ancestry. It's his second venture upmarket, after the jarringly overwrought Nomad in Pt Chev, and chef David Kaya has come up with a pleasingly coherent menu that doesn't insist on authenticity: you can get a steak or chops and roast veg and cafe standards such as seared tuna, fairly singing with dill, and heirloom tomatoes are smartly done.

But the main theme is Turkish: a delicious Anatolian soup made with lentils, bulgur wheat and mint; lahmacun, the thin-based pizza topped with spiced meat rather than cheese; the dolma (the word means "stuffed"), in this case a monstrous capsicum full of aromatic rice.

This last had a whiff of the Istanbul spice market about it - a mild bite of chilli, dried fruit and spices (cinnamon? sumac?) - but the meat on the pizza seemed bland by comparison and its crust was much less than crispy at the centre.

Blandness proved to be something of a recurring theme. Dates and pickled shallots added interesting notes to a slow-cooked beef cheek and the meat was of a perfect consistency, but there was no depth to the flavour. Likewise, a salad dish called a fattoush: the shreds of lamb shoulder were dry, the croutons which are the essence of the dish numbered only three, and the dressing, a complex pomegranate concoction, could be detected only by forensic examination.

Even a fig mousse, which the Professor and I shared for dessert, was distinctly unfiggy, though our companions gave an enthusiastic account of the baklava.

In short, much of the food falls between authentic Turkish and arrestingly original dining. Good ideas require boldness in execution to succeed.

Verdict: Blandness mars a polished performance

Cheers

By Joelle Thomson, joellethomson.com

Reds that deliver, big time

Wine is a lot like people, really. Treat it well and it repays the favour, but treat it mean and it's not overly keen on being friendly in return.

It all starts in the vineyard with the grapes. Summers that are too cold, autumns that are too wet and even excessive heat can stop them putting their best foot forward with a tasty balance of natural sugars, refreshing acidity and ripe (rather than astringent) tannins.

When grapes are matched to a region's climate and the weather conditions are right, the result is spectacular. Enter 2010 in Bordeaux and 2013 in Hawkes Bay. These two maritime wine regions share some of the same grape varieties-- merlot and cabernet sauvignon -- and similar soils: free-draining gravels. More on Bordeaux later.

The newest big reds from the Bay are emerging from their chrysalises in oak barrels.

Talk about smoothly muscular (yes, we are talking wine). The 2013 Te Mata Coleraine, $89-$99, and the 2013 Te Mata Bullnose Syrah, $50, share outrageously intense colour and seductive flavours.

Pricey? Well, yes, but these are wines to savour. temata.co.nz