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When a restaurant excels, the whole story makes sense.
From the food to the service, all is delivered in surrounds that enchant or enthral in one way or another. It feels effortless and we are left replete in every sense. However, what feels effortless is really anything but. It's a complex process made up of simple gestures, systems and myriad other factors, not least the promises made and respect shown between hosts and guests.
I'd heard that at Half Moon Bay Grangers Tap House & Kitchen was worth checking out so I headed for the Eastern Bays marina to meet up with a friend for a Friday lunch.
The restaurant holds prime position, directly on the promenade, with views that overlook the marina. Having gotten hopelessly lost weaving my way through unfamiliar suburbs, the rustic and colourful design, open-plan kitchen and dining room bustling with full tables was a welcome sight.
The menu at Grangers reads much the same as many these days with a tempting selection of small and larger plates to share - or not - and I was heartened to see the number of quality ingredients featured. You know the sort of thing I mean - artisan butter, specialty produce, meat and seafood from named sources and all that jazz.
Hope is a dangerous thing.
Small things gave it away. There was a slight sneer when we asked how the prawns were done, as though it was obvious what "bang bang prawns" were and we were the fools for asking. A neighbouring table received two dishes they hadn't ordered and when they politely pointed it out, the waitress literally snatched the dishes away without a word to the two dear customers, who looked as shocked as we were at the behaviour.
Our clams came with bread that was stale and when I asked to have it changed it was done, the replacement arriving with a message from the kitchen that it was sourdough, hence the dry texture. Ah no, sourdough is sticky and divinely tangy with sourness when fresh and while good quality sourdough can eat well the day after baking, this did not.
I'd ordered the house-smoked salmon because it was billed as coming with purple potatoes, and I love those creamy little beauties. Disappointingly, no one had thought to mention that today the dish came served with kumara.
After the handling of the bread complaint I decided to hold my tongue on this one for fear someone would try and convince me that kumara and purple potatoes are much the same.
Thankfully, there were some redeeming features and they came later on so we were on the up, so to speak. Lamb meatballs were exceptional - soft and moist, spiked with cumin and mint and served with ricotta and a marvellous tomato-based sauce - and a plate of sinful potato skins were moreish, though there was scant hint of any promised truffle oil. The kitchen hadn't held back on the heat in the bang bang prawns - battered and served with a chilli mayo, just so you know - and they had a decent kick to them.
The only dish we ordered from the large plates was magnificent; hapuka beautifully cooked and served on cannellini beans braised with garlic, fresh tomatoes, rocket and lemon. It was well-seasoned and given we'd asked the chef to hold the chorizo, in deference to my pescatarian lunch friend, it didn't miss a beat.
The "sweeties" were predictable enough and I could have picked them without even looking at the menu - a fondant, a crumble, and a steamed pear and date pudding with toffee sauce. We took the latter. It had been heated to scorching, was served in a bowl that did it no favours in the presentation department and I couldn't tell where the "pear" component figured, but pudding is pudding and we scooped it up.
I left Grangers with a feeling that while parts of it are good, I was desperate for it to be better. Shortcuts inevitably prevent an eatery from being aspirational and while it appears popular with the locals, if Grangers lifted its game, I'd bet that it could attract avid diners from far and wide. Even I'd set the GPS for a return visit.
From the menu: Bang bang prawns, Lamb meatballs, Cloudy Bay clams, House-smoked salmon - all $13.50 each, Potato skins with Montevecchio cheese $8.50, Hapuka $32, Pear and date pudding $13Drinks: Fully licensed
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