Vinnie's : Restaurant Review
2 and 1/2 stars out of 5 (above average as per fine-dining standards)
Visited in early 2015
Auckland, New Zealand
In virtually no time, the Indian multi-national restaurant feedback site Zomato (I won't use the word "review" site as most of the world now foolishly presumes that a half-witted jumble of lines comprises a review) has taken over the online restaurant info-domain of NZ. The site, as it often does, had invited a dozen of some of their contributers over for an evening of dinner and networking, and a young Kiwi-Fiji-Indian lady that evening , upon being asked, replied that the best restaurant meal she'd had in the past one year was in Vinnie's. This was one fine dining restaurant that I hadn't heard about at all until then.
Entering its confines a month later, I settled into its standard-issue fine dining interiors arranged with compact, cozy spaces - don't expect commodious grandeur here - with one notable feature being that when you're led to your table for the first time, you're likely to see it expertly and exactly illuminated with its white-linen-topped surface seemingly floating in the dark as a glowing white quadrangular oasis.
You'll be hardpressed to find better service (8/10) than this in Auckland - there were only three front-of-restaurant service staff on two of my visits here but they worked assiduously. A young lady of possibly Chinese or Korean extraction , a young gent by the name of Pierre and another young German female sommelier were all superb in politely monitoring your needs and being solicitous in ensuring your satisfaction.
The food alas, for all its technical exertion, is mediocre going by fine-dining demands - many cafes in Auckland will beat out Vinne's for sheer taste. Vegetables, heirloom or otherwise, lamb, fish, seafood ceviche, pork, venison, desserts - all prettily presented - unfortunately do not arrest the tongue. Desserts in particular disappoint - Chef Scott is so nice and friendly to his customers when he comes out of the kitchen but he will either have to ratchet up the taste and flavour blends of his desserts by better research-'n'- trial or recruit a excellent pasty chef. A middling raspberry and cream mini-tower , and on another night a honey and passionfruit renditon simply failed to excite besides being technically inferior to their savoury counterparts. At the other end of the meal , the amuse-bouches are too gentle to seduce you as you enter your meal, nor do their constructions dazzle you with their intricacy.
The chef narrated a story to me of how he had cooked the lamb in empty wine barrells so to give a different spin to its essence - but I detected no oenologic kiss nor echoes of memorable timber and to worsen matters the lamb per se was on the chewier side. A pork dish ,on my request, was granted to me at an extremely reasonable $20 to supplement a 7 course tasting menu, and the presentation was a total beaut - with neatly stacked dominoes of stellar-looking pork amidst shapely greens and bright red jewel-like spheres of cherry tomatoes. But the sauce lacked body, and the pork might satisfy you in a corporate cafe but not in a top-tier luxury restaurant which is obligated to serve depth of flavour and unctuous blasts.
For the ceviche , the kitchen ticked all the boxes for texture ,looks and citrus balance but if the menu didn't tell me beforehand, I couldn't give you a iron-clad gurantee that I was eating seafood. The pair of young ladies sitting next to me seemed to similarly underwhelmed as the night wore on, and as the last courses took forever to arrive , they thought aloud, as I was silently ruminating, that we wouldn't be itching to come back here.
The two fluids needed to sustain life.
Tariffs run up to an average of NZD $200 to 250 for a couple for the food, and are very acceptable given the service standards and the fine-dining set-up. But for that price and the encumbrances of dressing up and spending longer hours inside a formal restaurant, you need dishes that you remember afterward. The fried snapper here is perfectly acceptable , but I'll forget it the next day (which reminds me why so few of Auckland's restaurants select other kinds of more flavourful fish) but I'll remember for the wrong reasons the same plate's sage and parmesan sticks which unpleasantly recalled camphor in temples. The duck was one of the few meats that I enjoyed eating here , its slick smoothness several notches above the fibery dreariness you usually encounter.
Vinnie's ,like most restaurants , doesn't understand the needs of a vegetarian - no memorable carbohydrates or vegetables cooked in elaborate flavours graced the meal. Fortunately for Vinnie's , it is in Herne's Bay - probably the most monied area of the country's richest city (not that there are are many such cities in NZ), so it will at least have an adequate inflow of clientele going by its current standards. A review mostly filled with negatives and hardly any humour doesn't make for the best of reading but that's what happens to one's state of mind when one encounters a restaurant that one can neither sing hosannas about nor damn.
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