Phone:(09) 361 2320.
Cuisine: Casual diner food
In preparation for this review, I did two things that are not usually called for when heading out to eat - I had a snack, followed by a wee sleep. You see, I was off to check out the Late Night Diner on Ponsonby Rd and, though they open at 5pm each day, I was determined to see it in all its glory, feeding the hungry masses late into the night. You could say it was my version of pre-loading, with food and a nana nap standing in for the more usual half dozen sickly RTDs!
By the time I arrive at the diner it's close to 11pm and I'm wondering if I will be able to muster enough of an appetite and the energy to do my job properly. But I open the door and instantly get what I need - a dose of liveliness. From the loud music that fills the air, to the bartender's look - hipster cool in suspenders and moustache - and the floor staff who work the long counter top, crowded with happy customers, the atmosphere is the perfect pick- me-up for the late hour. I'm directed to a spare stool in my favourite place - right in front of the busy grill section of the kitchen.
The menu reads like any list of decent diner fare should - it tempts you into over-ordering with the ratio of fried food to salads unlikely to get a health tick of any sort. The short orders include all the favourites; mac 'n cheese and bangers and mash, while house-made beans sit alongside grilled sandwiches and burgers.
Drinks range from sodas and shakes to cocktails, New Zealand and American craft beers and, because even though it's a diner it's still on Ponsonby Rd darrrling, there's a comprehensive selection of bubbles and wine. I feel like a lightweight ordering an Arnold Palmer, essentially an iced tea with lemonade, when there are hard shakes - vanilla thickshake laced with cigar-infused bourbon, or a chocolate shake spiked with rum and Grand Marnier - to choose from, but I can only go so far pretending to be part of the late night set. But what makes Late Night Diner a suitable eating out option for everyone, not just the late-night revellers greedy for anything to soak up the rest of the evening, are the items in the "home cooking" section - pan fried fish on corn grits, duck with potato hash, quail on lentils, roast chicken and more - which are being delivered right, left and centre as I perch on my counter stool. This is not sloppy-Joe diner fodder by any means.
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To kick-start my appetite, I order a serve of battered pickles, which arrive in a cute jar with spicy mayo, and another of fried chicken with an addictive buffalo sauce, one of my all-time favourite hot sauces. The combo of scorching Tabasco, melted butter and lemon juice is the perfect foil for fried chicken. Spying the burgers, huge layered reuben sandwiches and bowls of duck and potato hash being devoured up and down the counter, I decide to test out something different for my next course - lamb chops and mushy peas with a side of pickled beet salad. As these are being prepped, I have a full view of frenzied action of the kitchen, as each wave of orders from hungry diners descend, and I'm reminded, again, of how hard chefs work. The two in front of me carry out their tandem act of grilling, frying and assembling with all the fierce concentration, efficiency and co-ordination of a couple of America's Cup sailors, well used to working around each other in a confined, demanding space.
A plate with two chubby lamb chops on bright green smashed peas arrives and I tuck in.
The meat is rosy pink, moist and tender, though the thick layer of creamy fat is too much for even me so I trim it and set it aside. The beets are well-pickled, their astringency balanced with fresh curd and mint, and happily I notice (or imagine) they have a digestive effect so I'm ready for dessert. Fruit pies are on the rise so I take a slice of Late Night Diner's seasonal fruit offering. It's sensational with a tender buttery shortcrust pastry, made in-house, and smooth and soft almond and pear filling.
As I leave, others are arriving, bubbling with enthusiasm despite the hour. By the looks of it, The Late Night Diner is a welcome addition to Ponsonby's nightlife and my experience tells me it's well worth staying up late for.
From the menu: Fried battered pickles, $6.50; Fried chicken with buffalo sauce, $16.50; Lamb chops on mushy peas, $17; Pickled beet salad with fresh curd, $9.50; Fruit pie, $12
Drinks: Fully licensed