THREE SEVEN TWO
Address: 21 The Strand, Onetangi, Waiheke Island
Phone: (09) 372 8846
Drinks: Fully licensed
From the menu: Lentil crepe $22, john dory $38, fried cabbage $12.50, goat's loin $38, meringue pie $18
There must be unique challenges running a restaurant on Waiheke. It seems like you need to be a lot of things to a lot of people and that feels especially true at Three Seven Two, right next to the beach in a tourist spot but also offering drinks and dining into the night once all the day trippers have gone home. When I visited they were coping with all of this magnificently, as well as providing food and entertainment for my many children.
“Would you like to feed the goldfish?” our waitress asked and as I was about to give her an enthusiastic, “Yes please!” my kids piped up and I realised with sadness that the question had been directed at them.
Still, it meant I got a few sweet minutes of eating and drinking without having to parent at the same time. No matter how good your children’s table manners are you never really slip out of uptight-dad mode when you’re out to dinner with the family, so the food loses a bit of its flavour. Does that ever change? When I’m 75 and my kids are middle aged, will I still be saying, “Now don’t spill it!” every time the waiter refills their water glasses?
Named for the local area code, Three Seven Two seems to have received the inky stamp of approval from people who live on Waiheke. A friend with a beach house on the island told me that the restaurant does takeaways for people in the know so, having eaten there once on Saturday, I returned on Sunday after putting the kids to bed and picked up a steak to go, on a nice plate with some foil over the top. It survived the trip back to our accommodation well and the next morning I returned the crockery, as promised, then headed for the ferry, feeling very pleased with myself.
Steak, kids’ meals ... lest you think that this is a restaurant focusing on quality basics, I can tell you that the menu is much, much more sophisticated than that. My 9-year-old is, I’m proud to say, already deep in foodie territory, so she eschewed the chicken and chips, instead ordering a lentil crepe folded over wild mushrooms and buckwheat, a dish worth the price of the Fuller’s ticket for any Auckland vegan feeling hungry on a Saturday afternoon.
I later found out that the chef is Bronwen Haight and this was the second time in one of her restaurants that I’ve stopped midway through reading a menu to ask, “Wow, who is this?”
I’m confident I’ll be able to pick her next time from her food alone there are very few people who cook with this many obscure ingredients, who dabble in fermentation and dairy-free cheeses, who take simple, even boring vegetables and turn them into something exciting, as she does with her deep fried, spice-battered cabbage leaves, served with fresh chilli and curry leaf aioli for dipping. Very occasionally I’ve tried something of hers that hasn’t quite worked for me a goat’s loin here reminded me why I’ll almost always take slow meat over fast meat these days but mostly to eat from her kitchen is to be reminded how good food can be, how much we’ve learned about holistic eating in the last 10 years and how old favourites and new flavours can comfortably sit next to each other on a restaurant menu.
I visited Three Seven Two a third time, with the most Waiheke problem of all time I had an expensive bottle of Bordeaux in my borrowed bach but no corkscrew. The sommelier happily opened it for me and to this day I wish I’d invited him to share a glass with me then and there but sometimes you only realise what you should have done once the moment is over.
That’s the way the people who work here make you feel, though. You want to stay, you want to come back. Scented candles flicker in the bathroom; a huge garden bar beckons on sunny days. This is a wonderful restaurant, and not just by local standards.