cnr The Boulevard and Smales Farm Ave, Takapuna
Ph: (09) 972 9060
WE THOUGHT: 17 - Great.
WE SPENT: $199.50 for two.
If we were Goldilocks, then The Grange was (eventually) just right.
Our first table faced the sun - too much glare. Our second table had an unstable top - too much wobble. When we asked to move glasses and cutlery for a third time the fabulous waitstaff didn't even tighten an eye muscle. Then they brought the food. And then we really had absolutely nothing to complain about anymore.
It's not exactly a fairy tale. You have to go to the North Shore to eat there. However, if you've previously associated Smales Farm with a bus station and an office park, then you're in for a big surprise.
"Goodside" opened in December. It's a purpose-built hospitality precinct with seven-and-counting permanent food and beverage vendors. The site is large and leafy, the aesthetic is Matakana. When a party of bare-shouldered, bright-toothed 30-somethings took their table on the deck, I felt like an extra in a stock image library photo.
The Grange sits inside the big complex with board-and-batten exteriors, barn door-like feature walls and gabion fences. Remember that bach your private school friends invited you to that one summer before you got a job at the petrol station in Rangiora and they became au pairs in Switzerland? Anyway, it's all very nice. More interestingly, the food is very good.
My companion is vegetarian and Iwas concerned the menu might not accommodate. Starters include steak tartare, bone marrow and chicken terrine. But there is also a petite wedge of baby gem lettuce with citrus poached crayfish and crab ($12) and focaccia ($10) they bake on site and smother in ricotta and honey.
"Crayfish" is one of those words that reads bigger than any restaurant inevitably delivers and The Grange was no exception, but a little goes a long way on the taste buds. Midway through the hottest week this summer, I enjoyed the lightness of this dish with its lemony dressing that was lip-smacking but not overpowering.
Come winter, a wedge of that focaccia could do double-duty as a doorstep. It was huge and pillowy, with a thick cloud of ricotta that was bland in that excellent, milky way of ricotta. Megan wanted salt, but I liked the way you had to work for the flavour.
Last year I read around a million international food stories about cacio e pepe. It's a kind of mac 'n' cheese for minimalists, relying on little more than cheese, pepper and a splash of starchy pasta water to loosen the "sauce". It is mashed potatoes but easier and better; a tangle of the thinnest linguine that tastes like it had a little soak in butter and pepper ($20). Two out of two carbohydrate-loving diners would definitely order again.
It was so hot the day we went to The Grange that, elsewhere in my news organisation, reporters were being sent into the field to see if they could fry an egg on the footpath. I broke into a sweat just watching plates of meat being ferried to other tables (they do a 12-hour lamb shoulder for two at $65). There was a market fish (snapper, because it's always snapper) but high summer is the season to tread lightly on the planet and eat more vegetables. Also, that pasta and bread was quite bloody filling.
Nutty, raw courgette ($16) had been made nuttier with the addition of hazelnuts. Charred and raw cauliflower ($16) combined with walnuts to make what Megan said might have been the best cauli she'd ever eaten. A plate of multicoloured, multisized tomatoes and red wine-steeped onions ($16) were sprinkled with an arguably superfluous polenta "crumb" but top marks for inventiveness. Lest you think we're saints, be assured that all but the tomato came with cheese (and, in the case of the cauliflower, four cheeses).
Our table looked like a fancy urban picnic. We grazed and sipped (get the strawberry and basil gin and tonic because it's astonishingly good) and the sun dipped and it was finally cool enough to consider pudding. The tiramisu ($16) is massive but they really do know how to write a menu here - of course we would also have the hazelnut parfait with chocolate mousse and sherry caramel ($16). Order the latter if you're less inclined to share. It is also big enough to share but that not too hot caramel and that not too cold parfait are an addictive amalgam of just right.