Address: 166 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay. Ph 376-5597, vinnies.co.nz
Hours: Dinner Tues-Sat from 5pm; lunch Friday from noon.
Dinner Bill: Entrées $20-28; mains $39-42; desserts $18.
By Jesse Mulligan, April 2012
I didn’t get laid at university, but not for lack of trying. I went to toga parties, gambolled about the student union, even feigned an interest in film appreciation, but it just didn’t happen for me. I was deeply unsexy, you see, and all you can do about unsexiness is wait it out. Vinnies is unsexy too; that’s its problem. The food is great, and the service likeable. But the name, and the room, and the location… gawd, it’s about as hip as your uncle’s living room.
It’s been around for years, of course, and doing just fine for most of that. But we have so many other great restaurants to compare it to right now, that’s the thing. What self-respecting chino-wearer is going to tell his mates to meet him in Herne Bay for some Jim Skinner, when there are all those other exciting openings around Britomart, Federal St and Fort Lane? And what half-decent restaurant critic, helping to pick Auckland’s top 50 restaurants next month, can point to an empty, boring but excellent place like this and say that it’s gotta be on the list, when he knows it’ll be at the expense of somewhere small and exciting, where people queue for a table most nights of the week?
It’s fine dining: white tablecloths, free bread, frequent visits from a waiter to clean bits of the latter from the former. The menu is annoyingly short, I think, with only five mains to choose from — but the food is exceptionally well done. Geoff the Chef knows how to mix his meats — deep-fried scampi with a steamed hapuku sausage, market fish with freshwater crayfish and pig’s cheek “bacon”. All delish, although I wasn’t so convinced with the ethno-fusion. That foie gras needs something to cut through it, but I’m not sure that an Asian-style papaya salad is the answer.
One of the best dishes I’ve had all year was the wild hare confit, super-slow cooked and macadamia crumbed, sitting on a juniper-infused spinach purée, with carrots and caramelised witloof. It was savoury and flavoury, with bitter, sweet and spicy notes in every mouthful. Seasonal menu changes mean you now won’t be able to get quite the same thing until next summer, but I’ll bet it’s still incredible in its current configuration. The dessert platter is pretty good value and highly recommended, too — if only for the flavour-packed saffron ice cream. You’ll miss out on the Eton Mess but you can get that in a lot of places right now — it’s the new crème brûlée, and thank god for that.
Very few complaints about the food, then, and the service is eager to please — although there’s just one young woman on, midweek at least, and I’ve got to say it’s a little depressing watching her padding around an empty room while the in-house stereo system plays the same compilation of trip-hop classics I used to keep cued up on my Mum’s tape deck in case I ever pulled at a screening of Citizen Kane.
So where does that leave us? Look, an empty fine-dining restaurant just doesn’t work, and it’s not like you get to soak up the buzzy neighbourhood vibe. Despite the food, I can’t think of any occasion on which I’m likely to come back, and I’ll bet I’m not the only one. The food at Vinnies makes it a shoo-in for the Top 50, but is that enough?
Jesse Mulligan blogs at Auckland Food Blog