Address: 225B Dominion Rd, Mt Eden
Ph: (09) 214 9369
ralphs.co.nz

A funny thing happened when we finished our main courses at Ralph's: we laid our cutlery down and instantly became invisible.

We could see our reflections in the windows that separate the small main room from the capacious heated courtyard out back. But for the two waitresses patrolling the half-empty restaurant, we had simply ceased to exist.

"It's because we're old," the Professor said. "You become invisible to young people when you're old."

Perhaps she's right. I can remember when I thought that everyone over 30 was on the downhill slide. Maybe when youngsters look at our table, they see a couple of musty geriatrics, covered in the kind of furry mould you find on the overripe peaches in the fruit bowl.

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Apart the owner's parents-in-law, eating with their daughter and grandchildren, we were twice as old as anyone else among a mostly hip and fashionable clientele.

The time ticked by. The waitress' gazes repeatedly swept the small room without noticing my fixed glare. The table remained uncleared.

Patrons came and went. Empty tables were laid. Regulars were greeted with hugs. One waitress even went for a chat with the smokers outside.

My professional curiosity piqued, I wanted to let it play out, but eventually the Professor said it was nearly her bedtime and she wanted her pudding. So I snared our passing waitress and dared her to guess how long we'd been ignored.

"I'm all right, thanks," she said, grabbing our plates. Thereafter, her disregard became more studied and meticulous. But if she's interested, the correct answer was 23 minutes.

Among the main courses we ordered at what is essentially an upscale burger bar was a fisherman's burger that any self-respecting fisherman would throw back in the water. The Professor ordered it bunless (this option is available for all the burgers) but it took careful dissection to find the scrawny fillets of what I think was tarakihi entombed in a clod of batter.

It was either overcooked or not very fresh or both and I sensed she wished I had let her stay home and have toast and marmalade.

It certainly compared poorly with my pork belly burger, a dish I had not encountered before but which I think should be compulsorily included on every menu in the country. To bite into the bun - of course, I had the bun; it's a burger - and get in one mouthful the crispy greens, the soft meat and the crunch of crackling was pretty much the quintessential burger experience.

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It's a bit mean that you have to choose between fries and salad for your accompaniment. They're not exactly mutually exclusive, and some rethinking would make for a more attractive dish.

We had started with the fried chicken, on which the crispy coating was crunchy enough, but the tenderloin meat somewhat lifeless, perhaps because it had been precooked. More impressive were jalapenos, deseeded and filled with cream cheese before being crumbed and deep-fried. The hotness occasioned some heavy breathing from the other side of the table, but the Professor is a bit of a sissy when it comes to spicy food; I thought them magnificent.

Having been sent to Coventry by our waitress, I had to approach the bar to ask about dessert (we shared a terrific pear and rhubarb crumble). It sweetened the somewhat sour tone, as did the great music (The War on Drugs; City and Colour) on the sound system. But if I go back to Ralph's, I may wear a fluoro vest and carry a distress flare. Just in case.

• Starters $7-$10; mains $17-$22; desserts $14
Verdict: Upscale burger bar needs a service makeover.