Phone: (09) 373 4778
Rating out of 10: Food: 7, Service: 9, Value: 7, Ambience: 6
Apart from Euro, Apero is the only wine bar we've tried that takes the food side of the experience seriously. And we mean seriously. So many wine bars we've visited over the past few years provide only a line-up of pretty but unsatisfying tapas, small plates or aperitifs which, one memorable evening, prompted our still-hungry companion to explode, "I feel like I've eaten scraps all night!"
Not so at Apero, where you can order $100 worth of beef rib-eye on the bone, or metres of delicious home-made pork sausage plus a decent bowl of asparagus to share alongside the usual olives, bread and snacks. And, as we quickly reassured ourselves when ordering the beef, $100 converts to an acceptable $25 if you're sharing between four, (or $33.20 for three in our case).
Apero is a newcomer to K Rd, which is looking more funky and interesting as Ponsonby Rd becomes glitzier by the minute. This narrow space, with its sealed brick walls and 36 seats, was a tattoo bar until Mo and his partner, Leslie Hottiaux (former sous chef at The Grove and Baduzzi), arrived. "There's a karaoke bar next door," says Mo, "But we never hear them."
Like most wine bars, the personality of the staff is all-important. Mo, whose correct name is Ismo Koski and is from Australia, is an incredibly well-informed, international connoisseur who loves talking wine. He'll discuss the finer points for hours if you're interested. Luckily our blokes were.
Meanwhile, having scoffed our delicious sausage samples, we women eyed the menu and ordered a bag of hot buttered bread, a bowl of plump olives, another of croquettes and last, a plate of Iberico ham. All three were fine. The ciabatta-style bread came with plenty of butter, while the croquettes were filled with mild, creamy goat's cheese and coated with slivers of crunchy almond flakes. The soft and salty ham was the perfect accompaniment for our Tsingtao Long Neck beer, suitably served in tall, chilled glasses.
But it was when we switched to wine that Mo started to shine. Unlike most wine waiters, he revels in the challenge of finding exactly what you like. Throughout the evening he offered us tastes of wines from all over the world. I started with a glass of Gustav Morenz muscat, which gave me the fruity flavour I love, but without too much sweetness. Meanwhile, the others decided on a crisp Sequinet chablis, which was the easy part. It was when they moved on to Churchill's Douro Tinto, Cambridge Road cabernet franc and Mount Beautiful pinot noir that the swirling and tasting began in earnest. And great fun it was, too.
By then we were pleased we had ordered the rib-eye. Those 750g didn't look that huge once cooked and sliced, but they tasted delicious. Leslie's marinade smuggled itself into the very heart of the meat. It also came with a plate of that skinny asparagus that's tricky to cook (but in her capable hands tasted beautiful) plus a scattering of spectacular smashed potatoes roasted in duck fat. Note to chef: Please could we have more spuds next time? We could have eaten at least twice the amount without getting over-full.
The only non-meat option, which was kingfish, was also generous, perfectly cooked and seasoned, and served with an even more interesting range of veg.
Dessert was back to wine bar-style with two plates of adorable-looking
and imaginative petits fours, plus two glasses of Chambre Amour dessert wine, which gave all four of us a couple of sips and bites of pure delight to finish what turned out to be a memorable meal.
Our meal: $325 for four entrees, main meals and two dessert plates, matched with a bottle of beer and 10 glasses of wine.
Wine list: Interesting and unusual, with most wines available by the glass at prices ranging from $11 to $15.
Verdict: Apero was only two weeks old when we visited, but was already showing the kind of professional maturity that transforms an ordinary wine bar into something much classier. Food and wine are presented to a superb standard and though the food choices are narrow, the wine list is as wide as the Nile and just as exotic: A great place to visit if you're interested in French food and Aussie - and more exotic - wine; and it's wheelchair friendly.