Photo by Ken Downie.
280 Karangahape Rd. Ph 373-4778, apero.co.nz
Hours: Lunch Fri; Dinner from 4pm Wed-Sun. $$
It’s a throwback, right? A cunning trick to get comfortably middle-aged people back into Karangahape Rd. Exposed brick walls, a long thin room, wooden furniture, soft light, friendly people working the floor. Especially the bricks. This is what restaurants were like when we first had restaurants, as opposed to stuffy hotel dining rooms.
I sat down half expecting I would be offered a potato baked in its jacket and wrapped in tinfoil. Thankfully (I mean it, really deeply thankfully) that’s not on the Apero menu.
They’ve got the brickworked comfort although, honest, I’m not complaining about that, just commenting, because why complain when they’ve also got far, far better food and a far, far better wine list than any funky 80s bistro ever managed?
They offered me a raw-fish dish: trevally. It was a slightly dark and stormy night and that wasn’t the sort of thing I was planning to eat, but I had it anyway. Oh god. It was very good. Citrusy, with avocado and shreds of fried shallots for texture and little pieces of pickle, and a horseradish flavour dancing around in there, too. Often, with a dish like this, it all slips down so quickly you can be finished before you’ve started, and you regret that. But this fish was firm, almost chewy, which made the whole thing delightfully easy to savour.
Leslie Hottiaux, the co-owner and chef, had me at first bite, and right through the meal she never let me go.
I loved everything I ate.
There was sausage, which I think is their special thing. It’s pork, presented in a spiral on the plate. The more people at your table who want it, the bigger the spiral: Hottiaux makes her sausages by the metre. It was light and tasty and came with grain mustard, which was good; walnut mustard, which was spectacular; and slices of remarkably sweet pickle.
There was a special of sweetbreads, served on a little plate with a surprising bed of crème fraîche...it was so good I seriously contemplated ordering the same again.
There was a special of sweetbreads, served on a little plate with a surprising bed of crème fraîche. As with the fish, it was so good I seriously contemplated ordering the same again. There were brussels sprouts, too, sauced up, a fragrant meal in themselves.
There’s something for everyone — a charcuterie platter for the group, a choice of delectable veggie dishes, that little sweetbreads offering for the individual.
And yet, there is a little problem. The sweetbreads dish was tiny, the sprouts a big side bowl for two or three or even four to share. Both superb, as I’ve said, but so mismatched on quantity. Those sprouts would have been better with the sausage. Turned out I was slightly badly advised on what to eat with what.
It’s not an uncommon complaint. Apero is one of those bistro/bars where you can drink merrily and eat lovely food, but because the menu is short and contains a lot of small plates and “shared plates”, it’s not as easy as it may look to construct a proper dinner. That won’t matter to some of their customers, but it will to quite a few, and it’s fixable. Floor staff need to be good with their advice, and ask a few questions: Are you hungry? Are you planning on gustatory grazing or do you want dinner?
The problem is com-pounded if they run out of the main-course special, as I’ve known to happen. If you’re going to offer only one or two mains a day, that seems a bit remiss. Still, they have many other specials and keep changing them out, and I give them a big pile of points for that.
I left the wine entirely to the other co-owner Mo Koski, who also knows what he’s doing. A glass of Vouvray to accompany the fish had a nose that suggested rich and fruity but a much quieter and more subtle palate, and I really liked that. Every wine he offered was unusual, delectable in itself and terrifically matched to the dish he served it with. Beers, cocktails, they’re great too.
Is it a bar, then, rather than a restaurant? Hottiaux and Koski might be tempted to say it doesn’t matter, but in my view that’s the wrong way to think.
They promote Apero as a place to go and have a lovely time with some food and something to drink, which is fine, but to be fully on song, it’s not enough.
The whole must be good and so must the sum of its parts. Dinner should not be even slightly beyond them. Still, I’ll be back. It’s so lovely there.