Despite a couple of highlights, there were too many food flaws during our first foray into The Grange-land three months ago for us to leave completely satisfied. Fast forward to a more recent visit and the result is much different.
The Grange is not, and does not set out to be, a mecca for food cognoscenti. It’s somewhere to get a meal that’s a good cut above the average bistro with a menu that includes enough culinary treats to keep things interesting.
Working strongly in support is its Takapuna location and its cosmopolitan, cleverly modulated ambience. Loads of parking, plenty of seating options – ranging from private, greenery-filled dining rooms and intimate alcoves to outside tables on spacious decks – that work together to provide a thoughtfully designed meeting place, clearly aiming to attract a varied customer base. There’s no spectacular view, no trend-setting décor. However, with its mix of vaulted ceilings, timber and soft furnishings, it’s nicely comfortable, spacious and functional.
At its heart is a bar in the grand style, stocked with every liquor imaginable, Grangeready to pump out the drinks during sunny weekend afternoons.
Another highlight, at least for the wine drinker, is the impressively voluminous drinks list. It’s so extensive that, unless you enjoyed reading War and Peace, I suggest asking your waiter for a recommendation, if only to save time for conversation. The prices are reasonable and the pours are more generous than we’ve experienced in other venues. They also bring the bottle to the table so you know what you are drinking, something I believe should be standard practice. The by-the-glass options are predominantly lesser-known brands, but on both visits staff were decent enough to open something we particularly wanted to try. The beer list has become more interesting than earlier with the inclusion of a selection of good-quality craft brands.
Our waiter was exceptionally professional and helpful. He, like other staff, was clearly highly experienced and this resulted in seamless service. The formerly painfully slow food delivery has become much more efficient and agreeable.
From a well-formed seasonal menu we chose salt-baked beetroot with buffalo curd and cabernet vinegar. It’s a simple enough combo but this was notable for its expert execution and balanced seasoning. We also tried the braised squid with white polenta, ’nduja fried bread and curry leaves which, despite its confronting blackness, was truly tasty. To be fair, the influence of the curry leaves was muted and the presence of the fried bread was understated, but the primary component, the squid, was tender and moist and the clear hero on the plate.
Our main courses were, like the starters, a generous size, compiled to satisfy the bigger appetite. The first was a pork chop with celeriac, seaweed and pickle. The heritage pork was succulent with a plating that suggested the chef was happy to refrain from smothering it in sauce and let it stand on its own merits. This was the right decision although the pickles did add a flavour flourish that kept the dish interesting until the finish.
We were not, however, completely convinced by the venison. The meat was perfectly cooked having been given the same hands-off treatment as the pork. But there was an irksome taste to the mushroom, parsnip and nasturtium combo that had us puzzled. This was nothing that prevented us from finishing every morsel, but it didn’t work as well as other dishes.
The dessert list is a standard mix of chocolate, fruit and ice cream. Our lemon-and-pinenut tart with sorbet and marmalade had a nicely thin crust while the filling was light and airy. Nothing to rave about but well-made and a fitting end to the meal.
We liked The Grange much more this time around. It seemed more relaxed, more comfortable in its own skin, as if co-owners and managers Holly Wilson, Nik Stakes and Mark Wilson, having recognised the niche they are catering to, have worked out what is required to satisfy it. Chef Regnar Christensen is a proven talent, so with such an experienced team there’s every reason to believe The Grange will continue to fill a need for loyal locals as well as attracting interlopers like us from the west looking for something that will satisfy without breaking the bank.