Lauraine Jacobs

Food Writer and Author of Delicious Books

Lauraine’s blog

6 June 2013


Dec 2102 It’s all about creating the setting for a fine meal; lighting, soft surfaces and seating that gives diners enough space to feel special. Geoff Scott’s recent revamp of his Herne Bay fine dining restaurant Vinnies ticks all those boxes. There’s thick carpet on the restaurant floor, luxuriously upholstered chairs, dark moody walls and just enough distance between tables so you don’t have to listen to others’ intimate conversations.

But it’s the lighting that’s really special. Small spotlights can adjust to the configuration of the tables so that the light falls on the tables, illuminating the white tablecloths, making menus easy to read and ensuring the food becomes the hero. (That the soft reflected light is quite flattering to the diner was not lost on me.)

Chef Scott was one of the first to jump on the foraging trend. Years ago he’d scour the countryside around Auckland in search of the freshest, ripest vegetables and fruits and new and unusual artisan producers and growers. A menu in a fine restaurant should tell a story and Vinnies’ generously mentions these special suppliers he continues to find, and has such lines as “we love oysters and will only serve live ones, shucked from the closed shell, when you say.” I say bravo!

Another thing that’s not expected, but is always a delight when doing the fine dining thing, is the unrequested treats that emerge unannounced, from the kitchen. In our case it was a miniature milk bottle, to whet our appetites, filled with a creamy potato with a hint of hazelnut soup sipped through a little straw. Then, once we’d ordered, a munificent warm sourdough bread roll with butter and grassy South Auckland olive oil turned up, and later in the meal, the tiniest glass of properly-made blood orange granita. All welcome gifts received with gratitude.

As is the mode, the listings on the menu are a little oblique. Who knows what ‘citrus oil poached gamefish, garlic puree, tapioca and Coromandel scallops’ or ‘buffalo shoulder, sunchokes, papaya white chives, peanuts’ might look like?

Well I know as that’s what we ordered for our entrées. The buffalo shoulder was not the hulking great chunk of meat that my mind had conjured up, but rather a perfect nugget, probably cooked confit style and served with an almost south-east Asian salad of ribbons of green papaya and Jerusalem artichoke, peanuts and a few judiciously chosen herbs, all artfully arranged and dressed. The gamefish was poached tuna, and the tapioca was cleverly flavoured with crayfish – a standout on the list that also included another dish I may return for. ‘Manuka smoked kahawai, pickled mussels, seaweed jelly, granny smith and kiwi mayonnaise’ sounds to me like the ultimate expression of everything that Chef Scott seeks in his pursuit of local and unusual.

Main courses choices were wagyu beef, beetroot and mascarpone risotto (for the vegos, hurrah,) venison, snapper, lamb and wild hare. No birds, interestingly. The portions are not large but they’re perfectly formed and there’s hours of work in the accompanying garnishes, sauces and vegetables. Two dégustation menus are offered. That’s probably a very good way to go here as that’s where real value lies and you get to see the depth of the kitchen’s talent and thoughtfulness. Next time I’d take it as the pace and portioning is ideal, and eating that way introduces a little drama to the evening.

The wine list is a goody. The list is not extensive, but a tight well chosen selection of each varietal. Sommelier and maitre d’ Rachel Haughton has a fine palate and was right on the button with her suggestions of Two Hand shiraz for us. She flits about like an excited butterfly and charms diners with her Scottish lilt, advising and hosting everyone. It was a lively evening; although only half full, the private room was occupied by a business group, and a large table of ten in the restaurant included three nine year-old boys who had been there all afternoon for a cooking lesson. “I made this seaweed jelly,” one proudly boasted.

We finished with a shared dessert, quince and croissant bread and butter pudding with mint ice-cream. It was a delight. The pudding was as light as air and accompanied by a cone filled with minty green ice cream topped with hundreds and thousands and serendipitously plopped upside down onto the plate. I was told one of Geoff Scott’s young sons was handed an ice- cream and immediately managed to drop it on the ground. Amazing where chefs find their inspiration!

Vinnies, 166 Jevois Rd, Herne Bay ph 09 376 5597 * First published Ponsonby News