Is there a more evocative architectural descriptor than "porch"? It starts pointed and hard, through pursed lips - an entranceway. It finishes, soft and mushy, a collision of tongue and cheek. It's a word that conjures portly corrugated roofs, cobwebbed latticework and a second-hand sofa for your smoking mates. Home.
There were no cobwebs (or smokers) at St Helier's Porch Bar and Eatery. It's billed as a "casual" all-day eatery, but this is a beachside restaurant in a $1.5 million suburb. On a sunny Saturday morning I bet you can't see the sea for overpriced leisurewear and turmeric lattes. Breathe in. And out. That's the smell of money and activated almonds.
So, anyway, no second-hand sofas at the St Helier's Porch. In the design world, aspect is everything and the restaurant's long frontage takes full advantage of that sea-sky-Rangitoto vista. Inside, it's dark wood and benches; outside, on the sheltered porch, it's all, "Oh Auckland, you're so pretty."
We took our seat at a white table-clothed table, only to discover the cloth was actually a sheet of shiny paper clipped down at the sides. It's years since I've seen a restaurant do that. Several quite messy shared dishes later, I'm applauding its stylish practicality.
There was quite a bit of understated style here. Elegantly long but well-balanced knives and forks. Small, slightly asymmetrical matte-black plates.
Some very cute mosaic-tile work in the bathroom that spells a face-affirming message in the mirror. Right back at you, Porch!
We started with the "pimped-up prawn cocktail" ($22), featuring Rubenesque shellfish and more avocado than Ponsonby Rd at brunchtime. Accompanying kumara "ruffles" were light and crisp but decidedly unruffled, and while the sauce was old-school creamy, it could have been spicier. It certainly needed more salt.
Megan reached for the grinder. It was empty. Several dishes later, we understood why. Everything we ordered (with one notable exception) needed more salt, including the calamari ($20), which actually came with lime salt (verdict: easy to eat, possibly excellent with bubbles, but we were drinking an Aperol spritz that was slightly on the watery side).
Eventually, we found the seasoning. It had all, apparently, been poured on the goat's cheese bruschetta, which was not very bruschetta'ed. We were expecting small, crisp toasts; we got three large slices of soft bread, piled with a cheesy spread, mostly notable for its saltiness ($18).
Porch was, so far, looking better than it tasted. But then the potato skins ($10) arrived. Thick, brown and furrowed, they had the appearance of embalmed ears, but laden with porcini salt (yay!) and manchego, tasted Amazing with an upper-case A.
We defied our status as middle-aged, middle-class women and kept those carbs coming. Clam linguine ($28) is one of those dishes that sounds so easy but is so easily made ordinary. Porch under-delivered on the chilli, used spaghetti instead of linguine, and I thought the clams were overcooked.
Tiramisu ($12) was creamy, but not too sweet, with a good hit of coffee and the surprise addition of fresh stone fruit. It was a good recommendation from the waitperson who had been charming throughout, even when the "table cloth" had become a smeary mess of cockle shells and cocktail sauce.
The sun was sinking, and Rangitoto was turning into a giant, silhouetted design feature. I could have stared at the darkening sea and sky for hours.
This Porch really needs a couch.