Address: Heritage Auckland, Hobson St
Phone: (09) 979 7434
heritagehotels.co.nz

The professor says we eat too much meat. Since I'm the cook at our place, this is actually an instruction cleverly disguised as an idle observation.

I think she exaggerates. For a start, I reckon I cook meat less than half the time and I am conscious that the biggest single thing any one of us can do about climate change is to cut our meat consumption (check it out).

I blame my upbringing, in a house where a meal was meat and something. Kidneys or lamb's fry or bacon or sausages for breakfast; meat at dinner; Sunday roast, winter and summer; fish only on Good Friday, when I thanked God we weren't Catholic. We had macaroni cheese once, but I think Mum was crook that day.

But in honour of World Vegetarian Day on Thursday, I thought it was worth stepping outside my comfort zone. Even more courageously, I decided to venture back to Hectors, at the Heritage Auckland.

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I had a god-awful dinner in 2012, but over the past two years, several - well, two actually - people have said that it wasn't as bad as all that, a ringing endorsement if ever I heard one. I also saw in a magazine a couple of recipes by executive chef Jinu Abraham that looked delicious. So I booked, fully prepared if necessary to accept a serving of humble pie along with whatever we might order.

Actually, Hectors is a good place to go if you want to dip your toe in non-carnivorous waters, because it's not full-on vego. If you feel faint from anaemia or protein deficiency halfway through dinner you can always have one or more of lamb (shank and rump), beef fillet and pork belly for dessert.

But we arrived intent on a meat-free meal - I told the very sweet young waiter that we had come specifically because we were vegetarians, knowing that he had no idea I was lying through my gristle-clogged teeth. "We take great pride in our vegetarian dishes," he told me solemnly, which sounded like a challenge.

There are six entrees and four main dishes on the vego menu (all vegan, actually, and most gluten-free) and all looked appetising on paper and, indeed, on the plate. But, for the work of a New Delhi native who learned the basics in his homeland, Abraham's cooking is remarkably free of the pizzazz that you get in the humblest hole-in-the-wall in India. It is timid and tame, full of great ideas that are never pursued to the point of having a wow factor.

The dish described as "charred eggplant with chilli, mint and tahini" was really just garden variety baba ghanoush: very nice, though a tad unimaginative, even with the kumara crisps to ladle it up with. A dish of "poached baby vegetables" (woo-hoo!) was likewise scarcely inspired, though it looked pretty as a picture with beet paint and dehydrated olives, and cubes of a cheese made from macadamia nuts were refreshingly different.

My main, a slab of grilled tofu with grilled artichoke was pleasant enough though it seemed suspiciously like a not-steak, and a small mushroom tartlet was lifted above the ordinary with cumin puree.

In all, this was an enormous improvement on my previous Hectors experience, and far from a bad meal (the desserts were sensational). It's also good to see a hotel popular with visitors offer some thoughtful vegetarian choices. But I'm still looking for a genuinely adventurous vegetarian restaurant in town.

Entrees $10-$16; mains $24-$26; sides $8; desserts $15
Verdict: Inoffensive vegetarian options, verging on the insipid.

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Cheers

By Joelle Thomson, joellethomson.com

Gin book

If the word gin brings to mind images of drunken Londoners back in the 1700s, think again. The first time juniper berries were used to flavour an alcoholic liquid was in the first century AD, wrote the Roman author Pliny, who is quoted in the outstandingly well researched new book, Gin, by New York author Aaron Knoll. He explains why coriander tastes so good as a key flavouring (aka "botanical") in gin: its citrus characters are enhanced in alcohol and its grassy flavours are deaccentuated. This is a good read; history, gin myths, styles and trends are all supported by outstanding botanical illustrations and full colour photography featuring a broad mix of the tidal wave of new gins globally today.

Gin by Aaron Knoll is published by Jacqui Small 2015, distributed in New Zealand by Allen and Unwin, RRP $55.

Find out more about Aaron Knoll at his blog: theginsin.com

Drink of the week

What:

2014 Mt Difficulty Bannockburn Sauvignon Blanc, $26.95, 14 per cent abv.

Why: This wine argues a strong case for drinking sauvignon blanc from further afield than Marlborough. It is flinty, fresh and zesty, showing the white wine strengths of Central Otago, despite the region being so heavily dedicated to pinot noir - 80 per cent.

Where: Pretty widely available; check out Liquorland and Liquor King.