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Grandfathers hanging out with grandchildren; magical times

Hello everyone. This is my article from the July edition of Ponsonby News. It is particularly special to me as it’s really about the joy I have experienced as a grandfather spending time with my grandchildren.

Grandfathers hanging out with grandchildren

The recent birth of my beautiful granddaughter Milly was a joyous family occasion. I have experienced many magical moments in my life but the birth of a grandchild has to rank as the most magical of them all. Ok perhaps up there with my wedding day and the birth of my children!

And it got me thinking about the role of grandparents, particularly grandfathers, in helping to raise grandchildren.

I finished a three year stint as CEO of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust (GRG) last December. GRG is a charitable trust providing a range of support services to grandparents who find themselves having to raise their grandchildren on a full-time basis because their parents are unable to. It was a very fulfilling role and it gave me a very helpful insight into the huge challenges faced by these grandparents.

But there is a larger group of grandparents who while not raising their grandchildren on a full-time basis are spending a fair chunk of their time looking after grandchildren and this trend will only continue. We are the “baby boomer” generation and for those who can’t quite remember the definition, baby boomers are defined as having been born between 1946 and 1964. So if you were born in 1964 you are now 51! And yes you’re a baby boomer!

Of course grandparents have always played a part in looking after their grandchildren. My parents were wonderfully helpful when it came to grandchild care.

Our children are mostly Generation Y and for many families both parents are in full-time paid work. That’s the big difference between the generations. For us baby boomers it was more likely that the mother was in unpaid employment at home. You’ll note I’ve been careful to not say that mothers didn’t work!

So what’s my point?

Well, while acknowledging the awesome job done by grandmothers in caring for grandchildren, I want to address the role of grandfathers spending time with their grandchildren.

I had the good fortune to be able to look after my grandson Oli on a part-time basis from when he was 2 ½ until he went to school. I can tell you that it was one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable periods of my life.

I would pick him up from daycare on Tuesday afternoon and then we would have all day Wednesday hanging out together. We settled into a Wednesday routine. We hit Gymkids at Ponsonby’s Leys Institute mid-morning for a 45 minute workout! It was a fabulous experience for us both. He loved playing with the other kids and learning a range of gymnastic skills. It was a joy to watch him conquer the various balance, climbing and tumbling challenges. I was the only grandfather there, well actually the only male there!

During that time a research study undertaken by University of Adelaide researchers, who interviewed over 100 baby boomers about being a grandparent, was published. One key message was how grandfathers often felt uneasy with their grandchildren in public. They reported that perceptions of grandfathers needed to change, as more men in their 50s and 60s retire and spend more time with their grandchildren.

Further the report suggested that grandfathers were quite sensitive with the child protection issue, that they felt like they couldn’t hang around the playground on outings and that they felt excluded from things like playgroups.

Well TV One Breakfast got onto this story and I was invited to appear on the show in my capacity as both CEO of GRG and a grandfather involved in the care of my grandson to discuss the issues raised. I certainly understood how some grandfathers might feel this way.

It’s interesting because I hadn’t really experienced those sort of issues. But there’s no doubt that it could be an issue.

I think it does depend a little bit on how comfortable you are in your relationship with your grandchild. I had been fortunate in that I saw Oli 2 to 3 days every week so it had become an easy relationship.

So back to Gymkids where I was the only male let alone grandfather in a group of 12 or so care givers. The mothers were friendly but I didn’t push things – just acted naturally.

It never occurred to me that I might be excluded from Gymkids.

After Gymkids we would go to the library next door to do puzzles and get the next set of library books out, then to Dizengoff for morning tea, various food markets and then the playground.

Actually the hardest part about all this activity was having to get him in and out of the car 6 times an outing!!

So I urge all grandfathers to try and spend (more) time with their grandchildren on a one-on-one basis. It is a very rewarding experience and benefits both parties. Grandfathers can impart a very unique set of life skills to their grandchildren.

And here’s a few suggestions about how to form and develop that special relationship with your grandchildren – and one that they will never forget.

  1. Have regular outings where it’s just the two of you
  2. Develop a routine
  3. Participate – don’t stand back
  4. Look and act natural
  5. Smile and be non-threatening
  6. Engage but don’t push it
  7. Enjoy the moment, you don’t get them back

I promise you it will be one of the most rewarding things you ever do.

And don’t you just love living the good life in Ponsonby.

And by the way you can check out what Poncentric is up to at www.poncentric.com and https://www.facebook.com/poncentric

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Amateur reviewers – Parasites or Propagators

Hello Poncentricsters. This is my June Column for Ponsonby News. I hope you enjoy reading it.

I am a serial reviewer of cafés and restaurants. Trip Advisor, Yelp, Zomato, Urbanspoon, Menus. You name them, I’ve posted reviews on them.

So I noted with some interest a number of articles and stories recently about the role of “amateur” restaurant reviewers. Yes that’s me, and anyone else who has dared to post a review online!

My columnist colleague Lauraine Jacobs got the ball rolling when she declined an invitation to speak at an event organised by online review site Zomato.

In an article by Simon Plumb in the Herald on Sunday titled ‘When it comes to reviews, the ability to eat is not enough’ Lauraine is quoted as saying “In all conscience I cannot attend as I do not agree with commercial sites like [Zomato] that rely on unqualified and unpaid restaurant reviewers.” Oops that’s me she’s talking about!

I wouldn’t say the article, and Lauraine’s reported comments, got my hackles up, but it did pique my interest and get me thinking about the roles and responsibilities around reviewing eateries in particular.

Well it wasn’t long before the subject erupted in the media again when Mt Eden restaurant Molten hit back at a group of disgruntled diners who had given Molten a very low rating.

Molten owner Sven Nielsen labeled the review “unfair, unjust and a little bit vindictive” and responded to the disgruntled group with a vehement review of their own suggesting that the diners were “rather rude to the people that worked at our restaurant”.

As if the Molten meltdown was not enough, lo and behold the next day Jonny Rudduck from favoured Ponsonby eatery Il Buco chucked a hot chilli into the pot. He said we were parasites. Ouch!  Well actually that comment might have been directed at the review site but ouch anyway.

The New Zealand Herald joined in the act by running a poll in which it asked readers “Should restaurants have the right to fight back to online reviews?” Over 5,000 readers responded with a resounding 91% yes. Of course they should.

And just when I thought the matter was at an end Wellington’s Ekim Burger owner Mike Duffy as reported by Stuff’s Robert Kitchin “sparked a social media uproar with a vitriolic rant on the Wellington business’ Facebook page after a customer accused the burger bar of giving her son food poisoning”. A complete over reaction by Mike Duffy? I would have thought so.

But wait there’s more.

No sooner had we digested Mike Duffy’s burger bomb then respected reviewer Peter Calder joined the fray. Actually I think the burger bomb was more a case of indigestion! Anyway the Herald’s Calder, in a thoughtful story headlined “Waiter, these ‘parasites’ [are] not to my liking”, conducted a sympathetic symphony of support for restaurants in which he said it was “easy to feel for restaurants angered by bad reviews written by ill-informed diners in the safety of cyberspace”. Ouch again.

So what are we to make of all this?

Well to re-cap. Lauraine Jacobs suggested that ‘When it comes to reviews, the ability to eat is not enough’ and “I do not agree with commercial sites like [Zomato] that rely on unqualified and unpaid restaurant reviewers”.

Molten’s Sven Nielsen labeled a review “unfair, unjust and a little bit vindictive” and hit back with a stinging review of the disgruntled group.

Jonny Rudduck of Il Buco fame suggested “angry diners should boycott, not rant online”.

Ekim Burgers’ Mike Duffy had a death wish. Enough said.

And Peter Calder concluded by saying “it takes a good deal more curiosity and persistence than most casual browsers and surfers employ to separate the wheat from the chaff”. Fair point. Sort of.

Well I may well be an “unqualified” restaurant reviewer and I’m certainly unpaid but we amateurs have a role to play and are entitled to our (reasonable) opinion and to express it responsibly.

So how are we doing? Out of interest I checked on Zomato what customers are saying about Molten. Still averaging 4 out of 5. More interesting is Trip Advisor where 77 reviews yielded 82% excellent or very good and 1 terrible.

Interesting that the legendary Prego scores 4.3 out of 5 on Zomato and 245 reviews on Trip Advisor produce a score of 4.5, an 86% excellent or very good rating and there were 3 terribles. Quelle horreur!

So I checked out the big daddy of them all, The French Café, and found a Zomato rating of an excellent 4.7 and a Trip Advisor score of 4.5, with a 93.4% excellent or very good rating and 6 terribles. Sacre bleu!

My point?

You can’t please all of the punters all of the time. Not very original I know – but true nonetheless. Once in a while even the best are going to get it wrong. C’est la vie.

And negative reviews? See them in context; they represent less than 5% of opinion!

So what are the “professionals” getting all hot and bothered about? Beats me! But one things for sure, we “amateur” reviewers are here to stay.

Bon appetit. And by the way you can check out what Poncentric is up to at www.poncentric.com and https://www.facebook.com/poncentric

Ponsonby Road Eateries: So much choice, so little time

I’ve starting writing a column for Ponsonby News so thought I would “post” my column on Poncentric. It’s quite long but worth the journey!

So much is written about the eating establishments in Ponsonby. There is so much choice, so little time!

There are at least 85, yes 85!, eateries on the strip alone catering for cheap(er!) and quick to finer dining. From Ponsonby Food Court to SIDART every taste and budget is catered for. And I love the way that the various eateries are really onto it. Just today I see that old favourite Prego is promoting a dozen bluff oysters for $22 served au naturelle – as they should be apparently – although I am rather partial to the tempura treatment!

Prego Oysters

Prego Oysters

So, of the 85 eateries, 15 have been reincarnated in the last 2 years – that’s almost a 20% churn. Not an easy business to be in with more competition than any other business I would think. And I’ve been to 51 of them!! And did you know that starting with Bird & Boy and heading towards Three Lamps there are 14 establishments in a row that sell food. Ok so I included the butchers next to Prego and the Lucky Taco truck that is parked on the other side of Prego but you take my point I’m sure!

And speaking of Prego it is one of two restaurants that have really stood the test of time – SPQR is the other. Prego will turn 30 next year and SPQR has cracked 22 years – a remarkable achievement and testament to the vision, imagination and fortitude of their owners – Kelvin Gibson and Chris Rupe respectively.

If you look for common factors between these two hugely popular restaurants you’ll find it, I think, in their underlying philosophies – imaginative dishes using fresh and seasonal ingredients, simply and beautifully cooked by staff that have been their forever. Consistent high standards of food and service creating a memorable experience and an emotional connection. And of course their longevity has created a loyal constituency that now spans generations.

Whenever I visit these restaurants I’m always torn between the old favourites and the newer dishes and while I have tried the newer dishes on occasion, I’m somewhat inevitably drawn to the old favs. Isn’t that why we go back, again, and again?

Another contributing factor to their success I suspect is the extent to which they have embraced social media. Many of the eateries on the strip have an active social media strategy where we are bombarded, and pleasurably so, with photos of the delectable and the divine; enticing us to try them. Here’s a selection! Clockwise from left: Dizengoff plum cake, Mekong Baby curry, Ponsonby Road Bistro steak and yummy potatoes, Gusto Italiano bruschette (the best) & calamari.

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And I wanted to comment on another aspect of the dining options on the strip. There are two, what I would call, food halls on Ponsonby Road – not wishing, of course, to denigrate either by calling them food halls. The Ponsonby International Food Court, to give it its full title, is, in my experience, a most satisfactory destination for a quick meal. Granted it is an older style “food hall” but the eclectic range of high quality food on offer surprises and satisfies. I’ve never had a bad dining experience there and we would go at least once a fortnight.

And weren’t we all pleased to see that grotty old building on the corner of Richmond Road morph into the fabulous Ponsonby Central with its wonderful array of fine eateries – Blue Breeze Inn, Burger Burger, Dantes Pizzeria, Tokyo Club, Toru, Chop Chop, Foxtrot Parlour, Bedford Soda & Liquor, El Sizzling Chorizo and Maldito Mendez. I love them all.

And here’s a selection of treats (from top clockwise): Gorgeous assortment from Blue Breeze Inn, Foxtrot Parlour best pies (sorry about the photo but I only remembered to take it after I started haha), Burger Burger but of course.

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And now for a bit of history. If my memory serves me well, an early trip to Ponsonby Road for us was to dine at the famous Ivan’s.

Ivan’s was a casual restaurant, located where Chapel Bar & Bistro now is, which operated between 1964 and 1995. It offered simple, affordable food like sausages, steak and chips, eggs and buttered white bread right up until it closed in 1995. I can still taste the half a dozen battered oysters I had as a side dish with my steak, eggs and chips!

Yes some of you might remember Ivan’s but do you recall what came next before Luke Dallow opened Chapel in 2005! Well let me help. Ivan’s closed in 1995 and up popped the Anglesea Grill which had an 8 year run before being replaced by Charlie White’s for a short time and then it was transformed into Chapel.

So I got a bit interested in the history of Ponsonby Road restaurants and in researching this topic I came across a fantastic post by Jesse Mulligan on his Auckland Food Blog from June 2011 titled Auckland’s Best Restaurants, August 1980. Jesse’s post was based on a list of Auckland restaurants provided to him by an old corporate colleague.  The list was dated August 1980. I’m not sure if the list was conclusive; perhaps it only included the top end as it was compiled to inform the corporate lunch set back then! Notwithstanding that caveat, according to the list there were only 11 restaurants on Ponsonby Road.

Goodness me hasn’t the landscape changed. The names are very evocative of the era and include some very (in)famous eateries – Toad Hall where Prego is, Bronze Goat where Mad Mex currently is on the corner of Pollen St, Carthews where Tin Soldier now is, Deerstalker on the site currently occupied by the recently opened Ponsonby Workingmen’s Club, Oblios where Bolliwood is now, Orsinis in the now beautifully restored Allendale House on the corner of Crummer Street (now home to the ASB Community Trust) and Wheelers at the current Freeman & Grey address. And not to mention Bistro 260, Café 161, L’Escargot D’Or and Pabulum rounding out the 1st Eleven. Just writing this I am slightly overwhelmed by the memories of what were iconic restaurants of their time.

Don’t you just love Ponsonby. And by the way you can check out what Poncentric is up to at www.poncentric.com and https://www.facebook.com/poncentric

VOP: Odettes Eatery – a most satisfying dining experience

We’d been keen to try Odettes Eatery ever since it opened and a recent family birthday celebration presented the perfect opportunity for our family group of eight including a five year old. And although it was a VOP (Venturing Outside Ponsonby) it felt like Ponsonby! So Odettes is located at the City Works Depot, 90 Wellesley St and parking was easy (although it was a Sunday!).

It was a Sunday brunch and we were delighted to find that they take bookings for 6 or more – so helpful when you have a larger group.

It is a lovely setting – great décor, plenty of space with a seamless indoor/outdoor flow. Our table was inside but it felt like it was outside. There is outdoor seating with a large (permanent) “gazebo” like structure and even a bit of lawn that you could almost picnic on!

We were pleasantly greeted and seated, water and menus arrived promptly as did our wait person for coffee/drinks orders. No rush with our somewhat lengthy perusal of the menus.

The brunch menu is an eclectic mix of exotica. No eggs bene I’m afraid which is no bad thing when you sight this menu with its strong Eastern Mediterranean influence.

Variously we ordered the Carew Almond Milk Bircher (marinated berries, puffed wild rice and toasted almonds), Smashed Avocado (chilli, rocket, coriander on toasted rye with poached egg & bacon) and Baked Salmon Salad (swiss chard, kidney beans, buttermilk). All were declared tasty and moreish.

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I’m a bit of a sucker for the big brekky and Odettes Complete did not disappoint – poached eggs, whipped feta, heirloom tomato, avocado, bacon on sour dough. I loved it. The poached eggs were perfectly cooked, the whipped feta added a delightful flavour dimension and the avocado was the perfect ripeness – and plentiful. And a special mention of the bacon. Bacon can be very hit and miss but in this case it was perfect – smokey, streaky and cooked just short of crunch – just how I like it.

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The coffee was Millers – not many eateries carry this brand – and it really hit the spot. The staff were friendly, helpful and attentive without being intrusive.

Clare and Joost have done a fabulous job in setting up what for us will be a “go to” restaurant. It’ll be for lunch next time – a quick perusal of the lunch menu had me almost placing an order there and then. Can’t wait to tuck into those Soft Shell Crab sliders and the Duck Pastrami! We’ll be back soon.

All in all it was a most satisfying dining experience. Thank you Clare, Joost and the team.

VOP: Waiheke Celebratory Weekend

It’s been a quiet-ish winter for Poncentric but a recent family trip to Waiheke put some warmth and joy into a slow July.

We had cause for a double celebration – wedding anniversary and birthday – so it called for something very special.

Firstly there was the accommodation. We wanted something that was a bit special with sea views and close to Oneroa. Checked out a few sites and stumbled on Be My Guest and found this little beauty.

Waikare

Perfect. Not only was it a lovely 4 bedroom house with awesome views but it was only a 1 minute walk to Oneroa Village.

Secondly there were the dining requirements for the Friday night and Saturday lunch. Friday night was easy as we are all big fans of the Oyster Inn. But for the special celebratory lunch we needed to go up a notch. In the end it was a toss-up between Mudbrick and Cable Bay Winery. Deb had always wanted to go to Cable Bay so that got the nod.

So onto the 1 o’clock ferry Deb & I jumped as the advance party. I should note that it was an awful weather weekend so we weren’t sure what the ferry crossing would be like. As we waited to board Deb said “should have bought some Sea Legs!!” It the event it wasn’t too bad. Even managed a fairly average selfie haha.

Caught the bus up the hill to the village ($2 – well you would splash out wouldn’t you!). Driver said “where’re you going”. “29 Waikare Rd” said I. So off we go. Now I’m not sure whether Waikare Rd is even on the bus route but soon enough the bus pulls up on the side of the road and I look out the window and see 29 on the letter box. Thanking the driver profusely we alight at the door.

Then we spy the delightful Café Delight right there. How good is that? Even better, our house is the lower level of the café. And it had Allpress coffee. How good is that?

We popped in for a late lunch (as you would); the seafood chowder was very tasty and I couldn’t resist the honey & lemon semolina cake (unusual but yummy) and of course the obligatory flat white. Most enjoyable. And a great view!!

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Boy this is a long story and we haven’t even got to the first dinner!!

Anyway to cut a very long story down to a long story, the family progressively arrived and got ready for dinner. A short 2 minute walk had us at the Oyster Inn where we enjoyed a lovely meal in convivial surroundings.

I always find it hard to resist their oysters so I had the Battered oysters, wasabi tobiko mayo – with no sharing haha.

The rest tucked into an assortment: Hapuku & kafir lime ceviche, chipotle mayo; House-smoked Ora King salmon, crème fraiche, chives; a gorgeous chicken liver pate (that I didn’t get the full description of!!). All were so scrummy not that old “no sharing” was allowed to sample!!Collage

Main time and my choice was easy – Line caught fish & triple-cooked chips. Others had the more healthy options: Market fish, roasted in masala spices with cauliflower puree, coriander & mint, Savannah fillet steak, beer battered onion rings & roasted bone marrow and the Wild mushroom risotto, truffle mascarpone. And we had assorted veges and the obligatory bowl(s) of shoestring fries!! All were declared tasty and very yummy.

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As always there was always room for pudding and I was drawn to the Toffee & ginger pudding, caramelised banana, vanilla ice cream (no surprise here!!) Others had the Choux buns, vanilla ice cream & warm salt caramel – now they were a treat though I could only observe from afar – Mr. No Share was not allowed a taste!!

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It was a lovely evening with the family and as always the staff were attentive and helpful.

TO BE CONTINUED………………………….

Cooking Japanese is easy!!

And now for something completely different!!

I’ve started doing a bit of Japanese cooking at home (Cafe 91!) and rather than buying things like teriyaki sauce pre-made I’ve started from scratch and it’s fairly simple stuff.

Well the teriyaki sauce was but the tempura batter wasn’t as simple haha.

Of course you need the right ingredients but for teriyaki sauce there are only 4: soy sauce, sweet cooking wine (mirin), cooking sake (ryorishu) and brown sugar.Sauce

And there’s is a great cookbook available Sachie’s Kitchen by well-known chef Sachie Nomura which you can buy from Cook the Books

So my teriyaki recipe is “borrowed” from Sachie’s Kitchen but I’m sure she won’t mind as I’m promoting her book!!

So you can get the mirin and ryorishu from either Japanese Lifestyle at 75 Dominion Road or Japan Mart   435 Khyber Pass Rd Newmarket. Both are handy enough to Ponsonby. Better range at Japan Mart. Easier to get to and better parking at Japanese Lifestyle.

So here’s the recipe for the sauce for teriyaki chicken.

75ml mirin; 75ml cooking sake; 75ml soy sauce; 35g brown sugar

Mix these ingredients in a small pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 2 minutes. Set aside.

Using chicken breasts or thighs (I cut the breasts length-wise into schnitzel size – about 20mm thick), dust them with flour and cook them for 2 to 3 mins each side. Then add the teriyaki sauce and cook until thickened and lightly caramelised. Garnishing with toasted sesame seeds gives a nice flavour boost. Serve with rice, noodles or stir fry vegies. Not a bad thing in the whole dish. 10 mins prep, 10 mins cooking. The trick is to get the sauce to caramelise.

This time I did a stir fry with udon noodles to go with it.VegiesStir fry

Here we are all plated up. Deb’s in a bowl. Mine on a plate. Funny old preferences.

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I promise you that you will enjoy the nicest teriyaki chicken ever. Deb said it was better than R….n!! I thought it was sensational.

There’s more to come in this new menu/recipe series. I’ll be featuring dishes and meals that you can easily cook at home. Nothing too complicated. No processed food, no preservatives, no MSG. And I’ll aim to present ideas that will take less than 30 minutes to prepare and cook.

Now where’s that recipe for tempura batter so I can have another go!!!

Busy Busy Burger Burger

Well we finally got a table at Burger Burger on our third attempt. Previously we had tried but when confronted with 30 to 40 minute waits had flagged it. That’s how popular this latest addition to Ponsonby Central is.

And it was worth the wait. Mimi Gilmour (of Mexico fame) and the team have done a wonderful job in transforming the space into a vibrant, bustling, and yes noisy place, to go to for a burger PLUS.IMG_3886

We scored two seats at the counter – I like sitting at counters; plenty of action and interesting stuff happening. Service was prompt and we were greeted pleasantly by our waiter. Simple menu choices – voilaMenu

I had the Special – hawaiian burger with bacon & pineapple, Deb had the fish (as they always seem to do!!). Both were tasty and more-ish.IMG_3890IMG_3889

For a side it was a toss-up between the potato skins w truffle aioli and the kumara crisps but the skins won out and they were excellent. It might have to be the kumara crisps next time (it’ll be Deb’s choice haha) as the couple next door had them and they looked very tempting. I only just stopped myself reaching over and nicking one!! I’m told the charred broccoli w garlic butter & almonds is a stand out so I’ll be having that next time as well.

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The “No Nonsense Refreshments” list offers a bit of everything from milk (Lewis Road of course), shakes, homemade sodas, Isaacs cider (on tap, yeah) to good old Lion Red – some clever retro stuff here. There’s also an appealing list of wine, champers and cocktails on offer

Burger Burger has had lots of very positive reviews and it deserves them all. It’s a great spot for a quick “feed” and is a welcome addition to Ponsonby and to Ponsonby Central. What a great “destination” PC is turning out to be. I just love going there.

Busy busy Burger Burger is well worth the wait. We’ll be back soon.

VOP: Petit Bocal – good enough to bottle!

Those of you who follow Poncentric will know I have a penchant for all things French so it should come as no surprise to hear that I was keen to try Petit Bocal located at 177 Sandringham Road, Sandringham and it obviously qualifies as a VOP (Venturing Outside Ponsonby). And what do I mean by “good enough to bottle”? You’ll find out later for those who need a little help with the imagery!!

We had a family brunch there recently to celebrate un anniversaire. It’s a lovely café decorated to evoke memories of Paree and things francais. And a number of staff are de la France so it has a great authenticity about it.IMG_3662IMG_3658

It was very busy at 11.30 on a Saturday morning and finding a table for 8 was a bit of a challenge. So we squatted at various tables until we managed to take over the large central table which met our needs perfectly. My apologies to the three people who got progressively squeezed out by our advance!

Coffee to get things started was top notch (my favourite – Supreme) as was the super juice [berry, vitamin c and echinacea]. Just in case you didn’t know Echinacea is a very popular herb, especially for the treatment of flu and colds. It is a genus of herbaceous flowering plants in the daisy family. So there. And they stock orangina [hooray] with those so cute bottles. So cute that Deb took away the empties haha.IMG_3659

The menu was very exciting with a number of twists on old favourites. Not surprisingly I was drawn to the breakfast bruschetta diced tomato, avocado, red onion and basil with crispy bacon, poached eggs and citrus hollandaise and crispy bacon (salmon gravlax also available). IMG_3665

Others had variously the bagel [w cream cheese, home cured salmon gravlax, rocket, red onion and capers] and the gluten free bacon, spinach and poached eggs served on potato with citrus hollandaise and w salmon gravlax or bacon.IMG_3672IMG_3663

Eating my breakfast bruschetta I was in heaven. I love the tomato/avo/onion/basil combo – even more so when it is finely chopped. The bacon was delightfully crispy, the eggs perfectly poached and the citrus in the hollandaise lifted it well above the normal fare. It’s a long time since I’ve had such a glorious brunch.

My companions were similarly captivated by their selections. I got a “teaspoon” of Deb’s potato and it was divine. You don’t share yours she said!!

The staff were a joy to deal with. Geraldine (from Brittany), Nathan (from Marseilles), Coco, Jimmy (the barista) and Georgina can take a bow for all contributing to what was a very memorable celebration.

This delightful café got everything right and I can’t wait to go back.

Next time I might also sample the “patisserie” selection that included fantastic looking cinnamon brioche and passionfruit and chocolate cronuts. Check them out.IMG_3657

So what was that “good enough to bottle” bit. Well “bocal” means “jar” so go figure.

Vive la France

Gusto Italiano: An Italian Italian

Gusto at Three Lamps has been one of our favourites on the strip for a long time. Good food, friendly service, nice ambience. It’s what I would call an Italian Italian – a more classic Italian restaurant – somehow more authentic that other offerings.

So in need of somewhere to go at that end of P Road it was an easy choice. We’d actually VOP’d and been for a drink at our friends Al and Juls’ house in St Mary’s Bay!! And we had our friends Barry & Jan with us – refugees from Wellington who also have a place in Herne Bay – more interlopers you see.

Now Gusto take bookings which is great so in we go at the appointed time to be greeted enthusiastically as always by Armando. Gosh it makes a difference when the maître d makes a bit of a fuss. That’s the second time in a week if you recall my Prego review.

Normally I’d be up for the BRUSCHETTE FANTASIA (Four flame grilled ciabatta slices rubbed with garlic, dressed with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper) but this night no one else wanted starters which can be a bit awkward if you’re the only one!! So sadly no bruschetta!

Armando delivering a complimentary garlic pizza bread went some way to allaying my disappointment.

I can sit for ages drooling over menus and this one was no exception but I set my mind early on on the SCALOPPINE AL PROFUMO DI BOSCO (Milk white veal scaloppini pan braised in butter with onions, white wine, fresh herbs. Served with button mushrooms and seasonal vegetable, topped with truffle pesto). Barry ordered the same.Veal

Deb had Risotto del Giorno (salmon risotto special)Risotto

and Al, Juls and Jan all had the RAVIOLI BURRO E SALVIA (Made in house fresh pasta pillow shapes, filled with mixed mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and basil pesto, pan sautéed in a sage butter sauce finished with shaved parmesan).Ravioli

A fantastic array of authentic Italian fare and everyone declared their mains to be excellent.

So I said, as you do, what about dessert. Same response as the starter – no thanks. Damn I ran the very real risk of going without dessert as well. Fortunately there were a few coffees ordered so after tossing up between the TIRAMISU and the PANNA COTTA I sneaked in an order for the Dolce del Giorno – MIGNON CANNOLI – wafer pastry with fresh ricotta, candied fruit, chocolate, pistachio and a pinch of vanilla & cinnamon – exquisitecannoli

FOOTNOTE

Can’t keep away from Gusto. We were back there last Friday night to use up a voucher before it expired – yes I’m a grabonegroupontreatme user!! It was a three course meal which gave me a chance to have the BRUSCHETTE FANTASIA which I missed last time and for Deb to have her favourite CALAMARI IN PADELLA (Polenta coated calamari rings, pan sautéed in extra virgin olive oil with garlic and parsley accompanied with Gusto home-made mayonnaise).bruschette - Copy

For main I had the ARROSTO DI MAIALE (pork belly marinated with rosemary and white wine, seasoned and slow roasted, dressed with a sweet & sour tomato sauce, served with pumpkin mash & mesclun salad. TDF.pork

Deb had the POLLO ALLA GRAPPA (free range chicken breast braised in butter with onion, Italian grappa, cream & parsley and served with excellent seasonal vegetables. I had a little taste – loved it.chicken

Time for dessert – well we’d paid for it so…. back to the CANNOLI I’m afraid – excellent again and Deb’s PANNA COTTA hit the spot.panna

Another fantastic night at Gusto and the service was topnotch as always. Thank you Armando. And now he’s starred in Ponsonby News. Check out the great article about this authentic Italian restaurant. Love it.

Prego: A CLASSIC

To quote fashion designer Ingrid Starnes “with so many new restaurants opening in town we are spoilt for choice, but the classics are worth remembering”.

And that’s exactly what I thought as we sat down for lunch at Prego recently. We went for lunch as it was the only time we could get most of the family together for Ben’s birthday lunch!

Prego has long been a “go to” restaurant for us. We have been many times and it never fails to deliver.

As we went at lunchtime we were seated straight away. As an aside I still haven’t quite come to terms with so many of the restaurants not taking bookings. At times this doesn’t bother me but for special occasions I still like the certainty of being able to book.

Anyway getting a table was no problem on this occasion.

As always we started with the Pizza all Aglio (garlic pizza bread w divine garlic aioli). As you can see that was very popular – devoured before I had a chance to take a snap!!bread

and a large Calamari Fritti for the 6 of us. You really can’t go past these two delicious offerings.

calamari (2)

Being lunch I think we all went light for the main (well light-ish)!

I’ve always loved Prego’s pizzas so it was the Capricciosa (Ham, mushroom, tomato, artichoke, anchovy, caper) for me – as always. I especially enjoy the artichoke, anchovy and caper part. Deb had the Insalate Caesar (Cos, egg, pancetta, crouton, Grana Padano, anchovy mayo) which she declared as excellent. I’d like to be able to comment on this but wasn’t allowed a taste!

Caesarpizza

Rebecca had the Pesce (Market fish, coriander, dill & chervil risotto), birthday boy Ben & KLowe had the Fettucine Alfredo (Ham, mushroom, black pepper, parmesan, cream) and Dan, being another great fan of their pizzas, had the Pollo Arrosto (Chicken, pumpkin, pinenuts, pear relish & rocket).

fish2 mains

It was one of those meals where I could have eaten any of the selections. Everyone was very satisfied with their choices. I managed to snag a little bit of fish (lovely and moist) and a spoonful of the pasta sauce (sooo good). The CLASSIC Prego had struck again.

Being lunch we didn’t have dessert but, in need of a birthday “cake”, Brandon arrived with one helping of their excellent Budino di Datteri (Sticky date pudding, vanilla poached pear, ginger ice cream,   hot caramel, pistachio crumb) with one lit candle and 6 spoons – perfect. That is a stand out dish and my attempt to sneak a second spoonful was met by a stern frown from Rebecca,….and Deb.

cake2 (2)

I don’t normally talk about the drinks side but ever since I was in the UK last year I have developed a real taste for cider. Such an under-rated drink but perfect for a lovely summer’s day – and of course for a cold winter’s day. So I had the Monteiths Crushed Apple Cider and it was sensational.

cider

And no I’m not on Monteith’s books haha.

And the other thing I love about Prego is the service. Brandon, the maître d, was very friendly and attentive and our waitress Emilia from Argentina was a sweetheart.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of all these new places opening up. Sometimes though it’s so comforting to go places like Prego which has stood the test of time and delivers every time. You know the food will be great. You know the service will be prompt and attentive. You know you will have a good time. CLASSIC