Address: Cornwall Park, Epsom
Phone: (09) 630 2888

In November, I gave a well-deserved bollocking to the cafe in Cornwall Park, which has been, for a year or more, the only place in the vast green expanse to get a meal or even a cup of tea.

To say it gave me no pleasure to do so would be a lie: there is always an element of cathartic satisfaction in repaying a stinking meal with an excoriating review, but strange as it may seem, reviewers don't seek out bad experiences.

So I approached the bistro - the new name for the extensively revamped old cafe up the top of the drive - with my heart in my mouth. Comments from readers suggested that my earlier experience was not an aberration. Here were the same people, the same chef: how good could it be, even if that chef, James Kenny, has worked under Gordon Ramsay?

The answer is bloody fantastic. It is more formal than the cafe - "smart casual dining" they are calling it - though nobody turned a hair at my dining companion's clobber of electric pink shorts and flip-flops.


Waiters in long grey aprons are commendably well-informed about each dish's composition and method of preparation (although they do have that odious habit of refilling your water glass every time you take a sip from it).

The handsome refit - bare floors, black tables, white chairs - has preserved the exterior shape of a building that is part of Auckland's heritage. Generations have enjoyed high tea there and the new operators have been smart enough to re-establish the tradition.

A compact weekend brunch menu includes the granola and eggs benedict standards, though even here there are signs of intelligent life (wild mushrooms come with serrano ham, sourdough and a duck egg).

In the evening, though, the kitchen lifts its game, offering, on the summer menu which is probably due for a change soon, interesting concoctions: burned eggplant with tomino (a brie-like Italian cheese); scallops with buttermilk and leek; a smoky pork knuckle for two.

Fortunately, a handful of the dishes make it onto that weekend menu and so it was that my flamboyant gentleman friend and I found ourselves ordering something more substantial. I loved the kitchen's take on spaghetti alle vongole, with plum tomatoes and a rich chive oil base. He was attracted by a dish of snapper, the crispy skin of which he described as faintly curried. Certainly the four large chunks were deliciously moist and the accompaniments of roasted beetroot and roasted corn right on the money.

I can't quite get with this habit of making chips the size of Colin Meads' thumb, but my mate, being a Pom, likes his roast spud, and he thought them smashing.

After a very unmessy Eton Mess and a rather underdone poached pear with refreshing celery granita we had to agree that this adds hugely to the appeal of the city's best park. Go soon. You'll go often.

Verdict: Thoughtful and unpretentious food in splendid surroundings.

Entrées $12-$24; mains $24-$40; sides $7-$12; desserts $15