Restaurant Review: Ambler, Pt Chevalier
Jesse Mulligan finds Ambler a welcome new addition to Point Chevalier
Address: 181 Point Chevalier Rd, Point Chevalier
Phone: 09 849 3615
Drinks: Fully licensed
From the menu: Baked goats cheese $18, Crispy chicken $14, Quinoa bowl $22, Steak frites $32, Lamb pappardelle $28, Warm apple cake $12
Score: 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good, give it a go. 16-18 Great, plan a visit. 19-20 Outstanding, don’t delay.
My mum lives in Point Chev so I’ve always felt a special fondness for that flat triangular suburb. Long, wide empty roads that lead towards the water, a shopping centre with everything and nothing, tiny hand-painted signs on gates offering to fix, clean or sew your troubles away. Some poor seamstress still has a pair of ripped pyjama pants I dropped off to her in 2011 and never got round to collecting.
The homes all cost $2 million these days, which is quite a premium for a part of town that until recently had no decent coffee. I suppose you could splash another couple hundy on a Nespresso machine but what is the point of a seven-figure mortgage if you can’t meet up in a shared space with other seven-figure mortgagees for a machiatto? The new locals must be very pleased some decent hospitality types have recently moved in.
There’s the exquisitely good Daily Bread, where they are baking loaves but might as well be printing money; Samadi, the charming, family-run Afghani restaurant opposite the library; and now Ambler, which from the street looks like just the sort of convivial, all-day/all-purpose bistro where you can meet friends for a drink or sit with a book and chew a croissant by yourself.
Some of it works, and some of it doesn’t. The interior of the dining room looks good — the sort of lighting and colours that make you feel you’ve made the right choice as soon as you arrive. Then you sit down at one of the two-seaters lined up along the wall and they are too narrow — when you sit on your chair one side of your body becomes squashed against the wall so that your movement is partially restricted. It makes eating feel like you’re in economy class at 30,000 feet.
The service is very good: a friendly owner who works fast and efficiently and his offsider, a French waitress who looks to have recently stepped out of a novel. There are a great number of good beers and wines by the glass, and this might be where Ambler’s potential is most exciting — as a first-class wine bar that offers food if you want it.
If this endorsement is ringing a bell, that’s because I said a similar thing about Siostra last week, though I think the food at Siostra is slightly better — more inventive, more surprising.
Ambler’s menu is a pretty predictable document and though somewhere like, say, Ponsonby Road Bistro can offer steak and fries and turn it into something heavenly the Pt Chev version is only just good enough: that sort of grey meat with a couple of limp stripes I’m used to seeing on my dinner plate at home. It tastes good, because scotch always tastes good — but someone in the kitchen needs an afternoon with a skillet and 30 fillets so they can practise until perfect.
The other common problem with neighbourhood bistros is an over-reliance on one particular foodstuff. At Ambler it is baby rocket tossed in vinaigrette, which turned up as a side dish, again next to the steak and thirdly, as part of a baked goat’s cheese starter. There was more baby rocket in the quinoa salad. Maybe we got unlucky with our choices but it did rather undermine our confidence in the kitchen pantry.
What’s good? The crispy chicken was truly crunchy and would go great with the excellent craft beer they’re serving. The warm apple cake ‘clafoutis’ is a nice way to finish, even if the raw apple julienne accompanying it doesn’t quite fit.
There is nothing to desperately avoid on the menu, but I wouldn’t order the lamb again. It’s cooked properly — slowly and with care — but then it’s tossed through a pot of pappardelle that’s been overcooked in unsalted water. The sauce is thin — tomato and basil, which even in summer wouldn’t have enough flavour to make the meat sing. There was a little-shaved Parmigiano on top, but not enough to save it.
To focus exclusively on the shortcomings of the food, though, might be to miss the point of what is a lovely addition to the area. A bowl of truffle fries and a glass of Italian white would be just the ticket on a Saturday afternoon, and the website encourages you to bring your kids along, which is a lovely attitude in a suburb where the school is such a social hub.
If I lived nearby I’d treat Ambler as a “let’s work on this together” sort of project. The owners are clearly keen to do their best, and they’re close to the winning formula — hopefully they’ll get local support as they make improvements and turn this into a neighbourhood restaurant that will make people in other suburbs jealous.