In this job, $5 doesn't go far. A quarter of an inner city entree. One-third of a fancy burger. Occasionally, an entire oyster (Clevedon, not Bluff).
At Madame George, when Megan insisted on the crisps with barbecue sauce, I lowered my expectations. In fact, this might have been the best $5 I have ever spent on K Rd. You could sell these crisps in small bags on street corners for twice the price.
Megan also wanted the $5 carrot jerky. It tasted like carrots that had been put in to roast at Christmas and removed at Easter. You could not pay me to eat this dish again.
Madame George was a carnival ride of flavour. A see-saw of sublimely good and completely gross - though mostly, fortunately, the former.
A $10 bowl of potato with a manchego cheese custard and paprika was the stuff of creamy, crunchy genius. We were six women and zero judgment for dinner, and so we ordered a second bowl. On that note, the very good house made bread comes with an enormous blob of very delicious smoked butter. Never forget New Zealand was built on a solid foundation of saturated fat.
There is something very sturdy about Madame George's menu. It was the tail end of winter, but when I surveyed our table of cabbage and cauliflower I was reminded of my internment at a boarding school where, once, a rice pudding that was glued upside down to a ceiling took four days to fall out.
The food was white and cooked and the menu screamed out for the addition of something raw and green. Looks are not everything, of course. That quartered cabbage ($12) had been salt-baked, was scented with marjoram and sat in a pool of cheese curd. It was sweet and tender and we ordered a second bowl.
The cauliflower ($17) divided the table. It was a soupy, soft-egged, parmesan-spiked affair. The vegetable had been slithered thin, which turned it oddly mushroom-like in texture. I enjoyed my first few mouthfuls but towards the end, it felt like hard slog.
Our party's sole vegetarian was being very well-served by these "small" plates, which were interesting and, actually, not that small (a bit like Madame George - it looks tiny from the street, but there's decent seating for groups in a wide corridor behind the bar).
I wondered what "oca" was ($12 with fermented chilli, whey and elderflower). Our waitperson said it was like a yam. I googled this to discover it is exactly a New Zealand yam - Oxalis tuberosa, introduced around 1860 and commonly known as "yam" until some hipster restaurant worked hard to increase its cachet.
Presumably the same principle was in action when the pig's cheek was presented as "pork jowl" ($28) but I didn't mind, because that jowl was awesomely soft and melty. It was our only meat dish of the night (committed carnivores might consider the rib eye, for $40) and it was hotly contested. Five out of six would definitely order again.
We split a large fillet of gurnard ($28), which was slightly overcooked for me and considered dinner definitely done and largely successful, due in no small part to the waitperson-and-owner who kept glasses full, brought potatoes on command and was generous with the bread and butter.
We finished with cheese and pudding. The former came with a lovely feijoa jam and I wish we'd left it at that, but curiosity got the better of me and the smoked chocolate, goat's curd and violet ($15) was duly delivered.
"It smells like an ashtray," said Sarah. "A wet ashtray," confirmed Caro. The carnival was over.