[Photographs: David Straight]
You’ll find The Commons in a stripped-out 1950s department store, all brick and concrete and metal and wood. It’s owned by Pack & Company, self-described “Social Architects” and a company that owns a lot of restaurants around Auckland. Usually, they’re beautiful and they often have a good chef, but they’re not perfect, as if in the rush to open three high-end restaurants and a bar or two in a year, they didn’t quite attend to the details.
There’s a lot of this here. It’s a beautiful space, especially at night. There is a buzz downstairs in the bar and in the large courtyard, and upstairs it is pared back, softly industrial. Takapuna has needed somewhere like this for years and it makes you smile to see places like this thriving outside the CBD or Ponsonby. But it took three phone calls followed by a visit in person to make a booking. When we finally got there, our waiter had bounce and enthusiasm, but was very green and clearly didn’t know the winelist beyond the matches drilled into the staff by management. They do that ridiculous thing here where they point at all the food with their pinky finger as they bring it out, even though you read the menu 10 minutes before and know full well what’s on your plate – only our waiter forgot what was in the onsen egg, and read it off the menu with shaking hands. This just isn’t good enough when entrees cost $22 and mains cost $36.
But I’m going back for the food. Chef Nick Honeyman is brilliant. That onsen egg was one of the best things I’ve eaten all year: an egg cooked for 60 minutes at 60ºC with a salad of asparagus spears and tiny little mushrooms; the egg sauces the dish and it is amazing. We also ate vanilla salmon with a cornucopia of saladish ingredients that came together so seamlessly you’d swear there were only two or three things in it. There was a heavenly wagyu tartare, a perfect execution of texture and delicate flavour. Mains were exceptional: merino lamb rump with macadamia nut, miso cauliflower; ox cheeks and scotch – cheeks and scotch fillet, with truffle and smoked potato. Sides were lacklustre, but we forgave that. It is unashamedly complicated food, but perfectly executed. It’s just a pity the rest of the joint doesn’t come up to his very high bar. SFG
HOURS Monday to Friday, 11.30am until late, Saturday & Sunday, 9.30am until late.
ADDRESS 21 Hurstmere Road, Takapuna, ph 929 2791. thecommons.co.nz
IMPORTANT DETAILS There is a small carpark behind the restaurant, reached off The Strand.