Review: Remuera local stands test of time

Peter Calder,
On Trend,
Publish Date
Sunday, 9 April 2017, 4:05PM

If the phrase "the corner shops" doesn't conjure up images of running errands on sun-baked asphalt with a TT2 as a reward, you may be too young to remember what they were.

Each neighbourhood had a set, usually with a two-storey concrete facade embossed with a name that paid tribute to the developer's roots - Devon, say, or Bristol, followed by "Bldgs" and a helpful "Est. 1923". Each set had a butcher or a fishmonger; a hairdresser or a hardware store. If they were not precisely a community hub, they created a sense of neighbourhood, a concept that development has all but obliterated.

These days, the ones that haven't been bowled to make way for apartments house liquor retailers and sometimes, if you are very lucky, a good neighbourhood restaurant.

In Remuera, a well-heeled suburb remarkably short of good eateries, they are very lucky indeed to have The Maple Room. The Professor and I first visited in 2005, when it was new, and were very impressed by the classy food and casual (by which I mean relaxed, not careless) atmosphere. We still are.

In the "Inverness Bldgs" at the foot of Upland Rd, it seemed ripe for a revisit: having been open for so long, it must have gone downhill, I reasoned, and readers would need warning.

I had forgotten the longevity is a good - though not foolproof - predictor of quality. With conspicuous exceptions that prove there is no accounting for taste, bad restaurants die young. Good restaurants - and this is certainly one - prosper.

I emailed them a day or two after we ate there to check out my suspicion that most of their custom was local. Debra in the office confirmed that their customers are "predominantly locals or friends of locals". One group, that she called "our Tuesday girls", have met weekly since the place opened and the regulars "appreciate having a consistently good neighbourhood restaurant."

If it sounds like she's blowing her own trumpet - and why shouldn't she? - let me toot for her: two meals 12 years apart don't qualify me to attest to its consistency, but it is very good. You have to be when your customer base is local: let them down and there is nowhere to hide.

The service is very efficient without seeming brisk. Our waiter, having run through the specials, headed off to seat a newly arriving large group, but not before saying he'd be back to get our order before he took theirs: it was the most understated way of saying that we shouldn't dawdle over deciding and it quietly created a sense that it was us vs them and he was with us.

Before he had a chance to come back, though, co-owner Martin de Haas, who was running the bar, asked what we wanted and in what order (the entrees list includes "bites" that would work very well for non-diners) and got things under way.

De Haas, who's been there from the beginning, shares chef's duties with co-owner Glenn Smith and the same tone prevails that I remember: the food is uncomplicated and deliciously tasty, never striving for effect, but remaining memorable enough to make you glad you came out.

Slabs of excellently squeaky halloumi were simply dressed with lemon and oregano; juicy prawns with lime and coconut. Rigatoni with a ragu of slow-cooked lamb was in part of the menu called "Maple Staples", which made it something of a sure thing: a menu with fixture dishes is responding to the wishes of regulars. But I went for lamb rump, medium rare, which came on a bed of slightly crunchy roasted chickpeas and with lightly roasted tomatoes on the side. The Professor's roast duck had the red cabbage treatment, with a chutney of peach and walnut that perfectly balanced the fattiness.

It seems churlish to complain that side dishes are too big, but the sides of fries and beets would have fed a small family and I couldn't help wondering how much gets binned. We asked to take the beets with us and they happily obliged, providing a container that, unhappily, was of non-recyclable polystyrene. After a wee lecture from the Professor, though, they may be changing this policy.

Otherwise, The Maple Room is every bit as good as I remember it. Regulars probably won't thank me for bruiting its virtues about, but you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Bites $7.50-$12; tapas $29.50 to $38; mains $27-$38; sides $9; desserts $8.50-$12. Verdict: A veteran presence in suburban Remuera is as good as ever.