Lauraine Jacobs

Food Writer and Author of Delicious Books


6 June 2013


May 2013

Lucky Ponsonby. At a time where several little districts in the city are vying to attract the eating out set, Ponsonby Rd is a diner’s delight. Whether it’s casual food, cheap eating, takeout meals, a café to chatter and while away the time, bars to perch at, ethnic food of varying hues and flavours, find a good old-fashioned feed, splurge on a sophisticated special occasion meal or try out somewhere new and exciting, The Strip’s got it covered. There are a few old stalwarts (belated congratulations to SPQR and Prego on significant birthdays) and many buzzy places that attract those seeking the bright lights and some good chow. And then there’s the Ponsonby Rd Bistro.

For many years the site at 165 Ponsonby Rd struggled. Those of us who have always followed the comings and goings, watched as restaurateur after restaurateur, some well known names with plenty of experience, opened there with new direction, new décor and lots of expectation. Constantly it quickly faltered. But once the Ponsonby Rd Bistro team were up and running it seemed like exactly the place The Strip had been waiting for. Everybody wanted to go there as they always do when something pops up, but even better, they just kept on coming back and back.

A bistro should be a familiar neighbourhood place where you eat often, but PRB is so popular it’s necessary to book. The good thing is that there’s a bar that winds around the interior of the room so you can perch there for a drink or even eat there if the tables are all occupied. I like the ante room as you enter, with its lively feel rather than the dark intimacy of the dining space around the bar. There are also a couple of tables set street side, no doubt where smokers can rejoice, or those who like to be seen and watch passers-by.

The food is pure bistro; chef Sarah Conway changes her menu every three weeks or so, so it’s seasonal, interesting and up with current trends. There’s constantly a reliably good steak with chunky chips and parsley garlic butter, chicken cacciatore, a wonderful flounder (or South Island lemon sole when they can get it) and a pizza for main course choices. Additional listings are at the chef’s whim such as the Mexican marinated pork on black beans and chipotle with fennel orange chilli slaw and sour cream.

(As an aside, everyone’s obsessed with Mexico right now, but I have yet to find a genuine Mexican in the kitchen bringing the sort of deliciously spicy authentic Mexican food to our city like the feasts I have just experienced in Northern California. We’re doing tequila and Mexican inspired cocktails well but, oh dear, the food is pretty flaky here by comparison.)

As in so many restaurants, PRB’s appetisers and entrees really appealed on a recent evening. So much so, that we ate our way through that part of the menu. And we loved it all. We had deep-fried Brie de Meaux with poached quince, chicory (witlof) and almonds. This dish showed chef Conway’s style at its best – perfectly rich, ripe creamy French cheese oozing from its crust and a perfect seasonally inspired salad filled with lots of crunch and differing textures.

Next a smoky, spicy fish and potato pakora with a refreshing mango, coriander, chilli and lime salsa that was just the thing for to perk our tastebuds. A platter of Otello charcuterie followed, and it is great to see a kitchen that recognises and supports artisan producers. Otello small goods are mostly only found in farmers markets and one or two retail outlets.

But the piece de resistance of the night was a risotto of slow cooked merino lamb, made with porcini and red wine and finished with parmesan. If there was ever a flavour explosion in the mouth, this was it. The dish was really really tasty and wonderfully comforting. I hope it becomes a menu staple through the coming cold weather.

Melissa Morrow, part owner and manager of front of house is a consummate professional who knows her food, knows her customers and most importantly knows and loves her wine. PRB serves cocktails of course – they have to, for the Strip is the trendy cocktail capital of Auckland. But my money is on the wine list which is extensive, eclectic and has wines to suit everybody. The wines offered by the glass are superbly chosen (I loved that Bellbird Spring aromatic white blend which reminded me of the ‘field blend’ of Alsace’s Marcel Deiss.)

To finish the desserts are true bistro classics; a warm chocolate pudding, apple crumble tart, crème brulee and affogato (a shot of hot espresso poured over a ball of ice cream – if you’ve never had it, you haven’t lived!) We settled for the little plate of sweet treats which were all chocolate – fine if you love chocolate but I don’t. Everyone has failings, even me!

One more detail worth noting; The kitchen is open through the afternoon with a limited dinner menu. Maybe that’s for those who missed lunch because they were working, or did they just sleep in?

Ponsonby Rd Bistro, 165 Ponsonby Rd, ph 09 360 1611 Open lunch Mon to Fri, Dinner Mon to Sat. * First published Ponsonby NEws