Restaurant review: Porch, St Heliers

Peter Calder,
On Trend,
Publish Date
Sunday, 14 May 2017, 3:17PM

This restaurant, on Tamaki Drive at the foot of St Heliers Bay Rd, is in a large building, formerly a beachside hotel, perhaps, with a long veranda on both street frontages, and a little chamfered bit at the corner.

There is nothing that can be called a porch, a word that, ever since it appeared in English in the 14th century, has referred to an entrance.

Yes, we know the Americans call a veranda a porch - as in "settin' on the porch swang with Mary-Lou" - but they call scones biscuits, biscuits cookies and main courses entrees, so they're best ignored.

We came in here once, when the place was Kahve, and were completely ignored for 10 minutes before withdrawing.

(Readers of a certain age will know this experience: as your hair greys or disappears, you slowly become invisible.) But I had heard good reports of its successor so, one recent evening, we tootled eastwards.

Summer's lease had expired, but as darkness fell, the little seaside village was still Auckland at its most enchanting, looking out to Rangitoto and back to the twinkling lights of the city.

The staff had declined to take my booking on the grounds that there would be no need for one at the time I requested. It's hard to overstate what a bad practice this is: it makes it sound as if the restaurant is not popular and, worse, that the customer is not valued.

If you know the booking is superfluous, take it anyway: a customer who drives all the way across town to find you are unexpectedly full is a fearsome sight to behold, in particular if his name is the same as mine. And when a diner arrives, at least try and look happy to see him.

I can't remember whether our waitress at Porch wrote down our orders - it puts me on edge when they don't - but she got a main course wrong.

Yes, of course, I could have sent it back, but that would have meant our eating in tandem rather than together, not to mention consigning good food to the bin.

So we ploughed through a steak frites that was perfectly acceptable but far from the most interesting thing on the menu.

Much better was a terrific account of that mozzarella/tomato/basil classic called an insalata caprese, which proved something that few cost-cutting chefs realise: if you choose the very best ingredients and let them do the talking, you're laughing.

A prawn cocktail described on the menu as "pimped up" just had to be tried: the few I've ordered in the past, mainly to erase memories of the nasty 70s shrimp version, have mostly just reminded me of it.

This one included beefy prawns, a delicate dressing and kumara crisps to add texture, though the big scoop of avo at the bottom would have been better sliced and distributed through the dish.

Little lettuce cups full of minced chicken were most impressive: the inspiration is the Isaan-style larb of Lao origin, which is lent a crunchiness by roasted ground rice and the chef had got the texture and the spiciness - assertive without being butch - just right.

A main of john dory with capers and herbs got the thumbs up from the woman who who had ordered the vegetarian option, but I took no notice.

It was the one I ordered but I'd had to eat the steak she was delivered and I was sulking.

We passed on what looks like a bog-standard dessert selection and called it a night at a restaurant where the chef is putting in more effort than front-line staff.

Small dishes $19-$22; larger $26-$34