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"If at first you don't succeed, try again," said WC Fields. "Then quit: there's no point in being a damn fool about it."
His words were ringing in my ears on our second visit to the trio of restaurants that are billed collectively as Main Beach. Franc's needed to erase the memory of a seriously substandard meal in April at nearby Regatta or I would cross the zone off my list.
It's a bit unfair to visit any of these places after dark in bitter midwinter. Main Beach is a bold and long overdue move to reposition central Takapuna so it faces the glorious beach on which it has for so long turned its back, but with a new moon, as there was the night we went, you can barely see the stately pohutukawa, never mind the splendid view of Rangitoto.
The place must heave in summer, but I rather doubt that we would be admitted then, for fear we would lower the tone. I'm not suggesting that they are hostile to more mature clientele " indeed, on a weeknight when there were only a dozen in attendance, we were made very welcome indeed " but I did notice that when they cleared and laid a table for us, because the one they gave us was next to a cold window, they left off the brown bottle advertising the Sunday evening "cold brew martini sessions" featuring "old skool beats and basslines". This was just as well, because it saved the Professor from having to tell them that "skool" is spelled "school".
Our waitress had an alarming habit of disappearing for minutes at a time but every time she came near she did say "If there's anything you need, just sing out". She said it so sweetly that I didn't have the heart to say, "The way Aretha Franklin's popping veins on the sound system, you'd never hear me sing out."
Franc's, which describes itself rather gratingly as a "purveyor of all things yummy", is the kind of place that upholsters beer kegs for stools, if you get my drift, but at the northern restaurant end, the attitude to the food is more grown-up. Head chef Duncan McKenna, who reportedly worked under Ben Bayly at The Grove, was not in attendance on the night, but his sure touch was evident in the dishes we tried.
A velvety cauliflower soup, whose cream content should ensure Fonterra's survival, was deliciously drizzled with burned butter and slivers of toasted almond; paper-thin slices of poached veal, like a delicate silverside, came with a scattering of tangy capers, though a rather agricultural slab of polenta in the middle of the plate worked against the refined effect.
The so-called superfood salad (quinoa, kale and zucchini with lots of seeds and nuts) the Professor considered rather run-of-the-mill, but I thought the mere inclusion of such a dish on the menu was achievement enough.
Certainly, there was no faulting the fork-friendly slow-roasted lamb shoulder, which came on a slice of the onion-and-anchovy tart the French call a pissaladiere " surely the most unfortunate food name since the shiitake mushroom. And to finish we shared an agreeably gritty chocolate crumble on top of pear poached in red wine.
Recent openings in Takapuna suggest the long dining drought may have ended in that part of town, which is gratifying. Franc's won't top anyone's best-of list, but it puts on a good show. As they used to say, not altogether accurately, of Hamilton, it's more than you'd expect.
• Snacks/share plates $7.50-$42.50; sandwiches $14.90-$16.90; small plates $14.50-$19.90; bigger plates $20.50-$19.50; sides $7; sweets $11.90
Verdict: The dining-out renaissance in Takapuna continues
By Joelle Thomson, joellethomson.com
Weird and wonderful Italy
News that new book The Native Wine Grapes of Italy has been shortlisted for a top prize at this year's Louis Roederer Wine Writers' Awards will surprise many wine lovers. One of the world's biggest wine-producing countries, Italy's grapes are hard to pronounce, rarely heard of and don't always travel far " a glass of tazzelenghe or sangiovese, anyone?
It took author Ian d'Agata 13 years to write and research this 620 page-turner, in which he aims to rescue the forgotten wines of Italy, which can seem inaccessible compared to the better-known, easier-to-find tempranillos and cheeky little Cotes-du-Rhones of this world. But a big fleshy montepulciano or even a susumaniello will reap rewards for adventurous souls.
Drinks of the week
2013 Cantine Due Palme Susumaniello Italy, $49
This wine put its smoothest foot forward in a big reds wine-tasting in Auckland last month. "Susie", as it's fondly known, is powerful but soft and fruity too. From Prodotti d'Italia, phone (09) 276 7140.
The new Cointreau is even more orange-y than usual. It is a blend of orange flavour with a Remy Martin Fine Champagne cognac; from the cognac region (not the Champagne region, despite the name). The new Cointreau Noir drinks well on ice or as a zesty mix with cloudy apple juice, bitters and ice. From Glengarry's.