ADDRESS: Cnr Plunket Tce & Jellicoe Dr, Hamilton
There is scrupulous attention to detail at Hayes Common. It shows in the big things, like food, drinks and service. But also in all the other things that make a restaurant memorable: squeaky-clean premises, smart fit-out, fresh flowers on each table, handmade ceramic water pitchers, and staff who smile as they ferry plates and glasses. It shows that somebody cares.
The people who care are owner-operators Lisa and Brent Quarrie, who opened Hayes Common Neighbourhood Eatery, in Hamilton East, just over two years ago. The Quarries refurbished and reinvented a previous cafe in the heart of Hayes Paddock, a protected heritage precinct. They have treated their rambling building (once a block of old-school suburban shops) with respect, going for subtle colours and textures, comfortable furnishings, and a shiny sweep of polished-concrete flooring to tie it all together.
They are both trained chefs, their aim being to provide creative, contemporary food in a relaxed setting. There are daytime, evening and vegan menus, dishes are seasonal and compiled from scratch, all about fresh produce and bold favours that nod East and West. Evening dishes are designed to be shared and there’s a banquet-style chef’s selection option.
The dinner menu doesn’t drown you in a sea of excess; there are six smaller plates, six larger, and a handful of vegetable extras. It’s a no-nonsense approach but within these dozen choices there’s plenty for meat-lovers and fish fanciers to get their teeth into, as well as for those who want to stick to vegetables.
Four neatly marshalled brisket croquettes (from the smaller plates) were crispy on the outside and lusciously warm and tender inside. Pulled brisket was mixed with smoked cheddar, there was miso mayo and chilli jam on the side and a power of texture and savoury notes going on.
Black-bean tostada was a lesson in how to get crunch, heat, sweetness and acid working in concert. Some of the beans were left whole, some were blitzed; they were stacked in a golden corn tortilla with caramelised roast butternut, avocado, sliced lettuce, sliced red chilli and fresh lime. It was a cracker.
Same with a larger dish of grilled eggplant. The way to my heart in a restaurant is a decent rendition of this autumn beauty, and Hayes Common’s chefs nailed it. Their grilled chermoula eggplant – channelling North Africa – was silky, melty, spicy and suitably charred.
It was matched with baba ganoush (for a double hit of eggplant), fresh-shaved fennel, green leaves, and cauliflower and herb couscous, with chopped dates tucked in for a sweet surprise.
There were more spicy favours and crunchy textures on a plate of pinkly tender harissa lamb rump and slow cooked lamb belly paired with creamy labne, charred carrot, crispy chickpeas and dukkah. Another example of def cooking and favour-matching, although I would have liked a handful of green leaves to cut the richness.
All the while, we were well looked after by our waiter. He stayed with our table for the evening; he took drinks orders, made suggestions, checked with the kitchen on a couple of questions, reset the table after each course, and remained patient and courteous, in a low-key, not overbearing manner.
Hayes Common has an interesting line-up of wine from home and away, and almost everything is available by the glass. There’s also plenty on offer for beer drinkers, as well as an impressive list of cocktails and spirits. My Californian chardonnay was fat and fruity; it was served a tad too chilled though, so it took a while to open up properly.
We finished with a couple of desserts, dipping into plates of lovely lime and coconut panna cotta with limoncello sauce, and a velvety chocolate vegan (tofu-based) mousse. There were clever textures and favours on each plate. Once again, attention to detail was the winner.