A trip to balmy Greece, via Parnell.
I went to Gerome for lunch on a bright cold winter day, but from the warmth of our table, looking out onto the Parnell rise, it felt like spring. We were drinking a salty, briny white wine made from assyrtiko on the Greek island of Santorini, where the vines grow like shrubs in the volcanic stones and the inhabitants applaud the sunset. “Have you ever swum naked in the Aegean Sea?” my lunch companion asked me. I hadn’t. He said it changed him, made him feel reborn. “This is taking me right back there,” he said.
We were eating smoked labneh (a thick Greek yoghurt) and taramasalata (a cod roe dip) with soft, charred pita bread made with buttermilk. It was the best pita bread I’ve had in Auckland. We followed with gooey barbecued eggplant with tahini, raisins and almonds; prawns wrapped in shredded pastry and fried crisp; and a sharp, spicy cabbage tabbouleh with green chilli. All made to be shared, the dishes rolled in and our plates gradually became a meld of the remnants of each — a tangy, sweet, salty, sour, smoky, spicy swirl.
The week or so before, I’d been for dinner with a very different companion and had a very different meal. On a rainy Sunday night, we ate what a human omnivore should eat on a rainy Sunday night: meat and cheese.
While we started with the same buttermilk pita and accompaniments, we followed with pan-fried kefalograviera, a salty, almost-hard sheep’s milk cheese, with honey and figs. It was similar to halloumi, but heavier and more solid. As it cooled slightly, it became even harder and lost the warm bounciness you want to find in the centre. Along with the music (instrumental versions of classic pop songs on acoustic guitar — offensively inoffensive), we’d both look back on it as the disappointment of the meal.
Redemption came in the form of tender-as-possible pork cheek, lovingly burnt on its edges. It was rich enough on its own, but with a bright yellow pumpkin puree, more labneh, and sticky pickled dates, it was thoroughly decadent. On our waiter’s advice, we shared a single main, and thanked him for his service (and his reduction of our bill) when the generous, round shoulder of lamb kleftiko was delivered in our post-pork haze. Slow-cooked with garlic and lemon, it too was soft and warm and deeply comforting. For dessert: galaktoboureko — layered filo with custard and butter — served with rhubarb ice cream and a sugary saffron syrup. I’ve never been to Greece, but it still took me right back there.
269 Parnell Rd, Parnell
Ph 373-3883. gerome.nz
Hours: 7 days, 11.30am-late
Dinner bill: Small plates $14-$22; large plates $24-$37; sides $6-$10; desserts $15-$16.
This piece originally appeared in the September-October 2019 issue of Metro magazine, with the headline "Aegean gracefully".