3 Stars / 5  (Good)
Visited Sept-Oct. 2023
Parnell, Auckland, New Zealand  
There is a new kid on the block, or, to be precise, a new groovy adult. Gerome - a modern Greek restaurant - has risen to the upper echelons of the city's cool-casual phalanx quite swiftly, and its exciting exotic menu enticed me to think this might be a lustier bet than the fine-dining disappointments. 
By night, a tree outside the restaurant festooned with white fairy-lights marks out the joint along the long linear stretch of Parnell Road. The place is double height and the interior structure does not lose this seating opportunity with an upper duplex floor jutting  above the ground floor's centrally located bar and coffee station. The interior design is better downstairs with accents of blue velvet, gray and light tones creating a reasonably upmarket ambience while a large orange-brown circular booth straddles the foyer. Like many other Parnell buildings, Gerome, deceptively, may not look very commodious from the outside but its multiple seating zones over two levels disclose admirable real estate. The kitchen rises to the voluminous challenge by steadily banging out well-composed plates. 
The menu with a good deal of Greek wordage shows the rest of Auckland how to buff up your appetizer section - no less than a dozen appetizers beckon, with decent vegetarian selections although the vegetarians will feel mostly left out in the main courses. A 3 course meal here costs approx $ 80 per person, with starters in 20s and mains around $40. There is a full drinks menu complete with fetching cocktails like Santorini Summer, Yamas Karpouzi (watermelon gin, pineapple), mango chili margarita and rosewater daiquiri. Skip the 'Athena' - its anise seduction is a downer. Service is competent but completely shorn of personality or any managerial hospitality. 
Prawn Manti - the prawns in these Greek dumplings were neither sweet nor delicious - instead they were something beyond merely delicious. As I bit into them, there was a transcendental burst of subtle yet intensely redolent prawn flavour which sent me telescoping back into the prawns of my native hearth - also small but crooning operatically of spice and smoke, freshly shelled. One of my very few instances of a true Anton Ego moment.
Kefalograviera, peppered figs, northland honey - what it may have arguably lacked in savoury fullness, it more than made up for with sheer richness of flavour. Laid out and cut like a pizza slice, this roasted slab of sheep and goat's milk cheese had a halloumi-like steakiness, the creamy roast cut by the richness of candied flicks of fig. The dark scarlet sauce was advertised as 'Northland Honey' - to be only believed if one pre-supposes that Northland bees distill nectar as well as the juice of grapes - 'twas a heady mix of red wine and honey. 
Roasted Cauliflower was visually striking, the florets blanketed in swirls-'n'-swathes of a sour cream vinaigrette, pearled by pomegranate and capers. Alas the flavoring of the roasted cauliflower was weak, and the sauce did not have enough punch to carry the dish through. The dish meant for vegans could have had at least a small timbale of carbs like pasta, noodles or rice to balance it out, as anyone with a rudimentary understanding of vegetarians knows that a healthy amount of starch, not just vegetables, forms a good part of their diet.
Harissa rubbed chicken skewers with potato skordalia, which I had next, was immediately more gratifying, and highlighted by contrast what a raw deal the vegetarians were getting. The chunks of chicken were soft and lushly flavored with the robust spice and chilli blend that is harissa, with two hearty skewers amounting to quite a toothsome mouthful. What lay underneath was potato skordalia - mashed potato that was next level buttery smooth and could well have been Joel Robuchon progeny (2.5 pounds butter to 1 pound potato). These for some reason were infused with the wrong kind of umami flavour (if there is such a thing), robbing a little from their unctuous purity. 
Lokoumades, Nutella, hazelnut, coffee ice cream - that evening, I am fortunate to report, ended perfectly with a generous dessert that hit all the right notes. Lokoumades - Greek doughnuts veiled in a light caramel drape - were soft and fresh, potently bathing in a Nutella sauce and perfectly accessorized with superb coffee ice cream whose espresso notes cast a long lasso with cream and sugar. By itself that ice cream was excellent and when admixed with its neighbours, it gave rise to wonderful shifting dimensions of cool sweetness. 
# 2 Evening 
Not one member of staff recognized the repeat visits - absent managerial stewardship and soulless service was again apparent. Staff, to be sure, do a solid job of ferrying the dishes and getting your drinks but if you expect anything outrageously fancy like service personality, wit or charm, you won't find it here. A patron had mentioned in her review of being put off by a gaggle of staff happily chatting near her, and I could confirm similar convivial confab at the end of the first evening - the social sparkle directed well away from you, lest you get disturbed.
Barbecued eggplant - Smoky, tender and complex in flavour, this hit all the notes that very few other vegetables, if any, can generate and thus admirably fulfilled the ambition of the dish. Almond gremolata and raisins accessorized it in a smart contrast of taste and texture. Sifnos corn keftedes were deep fried plump cutlets of mashed corn, technically competent, if a little quiet in flavour. 
The market fish on a second evening was snapper and this was the first dish that did not seem to fit or flit from the otherwise excellent kitchen. Even this sported a silken smooth pumpkin skordalia (mashed pumpkin) whose buttery finery was splayed out in a magnificent yellow scarf that dominated half the plate and flung the hapless snapper completely out of the water. The large fillet of fish, though cooked well, tasted mediocre, paired wanly with bulgur, with none of the plate's flavour matches generating any cohesion or joy.  
"Portokalobaba" - Google it and you will find a phantom but "Portokalopita" tells you, if you're not a Greek insider already, that it's an orange cake soaked in syrup. A spoonful of this with vanilla cream drowned me in a wonderland of dulcet pleasure, like a big sweet kiss that you remember forever. An emulsion of northland honey, light in texture, but enveloping in sweetness, had been deployed to gloriously moisten the empyrean cake. I haven't tasted Ducasse's rum baba but if it's going to gladden me more than the former, my legs can't take more of this unbearable weak-kneed rapture.  
#3 Evening 
Kataifi Prawns were attractively presented as a lip-smacking tapas and technically well-cooked with fine crispy noodles wrapped around them but alas were tasteless, accessorized with a tepid carrot tzaziki. These joined "Dolmades" - vine leaves wrapped around spiced rice with labne and feta - in having little notable flavour.
The chicken main's composition was disappointing right away on arrival. One would expect a little more quantity of the protein in a main, but the meat was soft and its smoky flavour was spot-on from the barbecue. The pairing was not only uninspired but also restricted to a single preparation - a little green sea of 'spanakorizo', similar to risotto but with rice grains that were distinctly undercooked (not even al dente).
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parnell - nearby.
# Final Evening 
We were the star group - given the large orange-brown circular booth that dominates the foyer. They may have possibly cut me some glam on account of multiple visits but the place had many vacant seats and missing vibes that weekend afternoon. 
Chargrilled Squid was emblematic of how Gerome can soar when it plans and executes a restaurant-level dish spot-on. No little rings here, the cheffing knife was deployed to lush precise effect in carving out a generous fold of squid meat, presented like a rectangular fold of omelette. The high quality seafood was tender and the grilling accentuated its delicate flavour. 
It took four main courses before I finally found one that satisfied (none wowed, in contrast to some of the appetizers). Squid ink spanakorizo (similar to risotto) was competently cooked and densely flavored with the salt-forward flavour of squid ink. Prawns were more flavourful than squid and octopus but all were tender and smartly cooked by roasting them to bring out a bit more taste.
The first two tasted desserts which hit the ball out of the park led one to think Gerome smashes all its desserts but that was sadly not the case. Galaktoboureko (semolina custard phyllo cake) was gently scented, a concoction a little more robust than a panacotta, paired with black doris plum ice cream that tasted more grape-like to my palate - a perfectly pleasant dessert that did not match the heights of its predecessors. The law of diminishing returns wanly slid in with rolled baklava crowned with citrus accents of a gooseberry compote - nice but more bakery than booming bistro. 
Underwhelming main courses and pleasant but perfectly average service shorn of any charm or personality cut short Gerome's excellent potential, even as some superb appetizers and desserts disclosed initial promise. This is still a solid addition to the restaurant scene of Parnell Road  - one of the most vibrant dining districts in all of New Zealand.
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