Our Place is the latest in a plethora of new suburban eateries opening up across Auckland city. When Sonya Wilson visited this week, she discovered a relaxed newcomer that embraces its homely, neighbourhood vibe.
Compared to many of Auckland’s fine-dining establishments, Our Place is rather unassuming upon approach. Diners enter via a front porch in need of a sweep and laden with discarded sneakers and jandals. I was unsure of this look at first, but my dining companions helped to reassure me that the footwear was not discarded, rather, the shoes were artfully arranged, a fine homage to the houses of Auckland’s yesteryear – those places where a long time ago, the week before last, for example, Aucklanders spent only some of their time, before leaving to work and socialise with large crowds in the city.
Our Place is unassuming on the inside too. As with many hip new joints, it does not take bookings, but my dining companions (two young co-workers) and I were seated immediately. At 5.30pm on a Monday, we had clearly arrived early enough to beat the rush, though perhaps a little too early for the wait staff to have properly organised our eating surface. Dining here is at just one large central table, a shared space lacking in pretence, napkins and matching cutlery. They’d even left a fruit bowl, a child’s homework book and a selection of Lego on the end of our table – a delightful homely touch, as my co-workers assured me – very much in keeping with its retro, down-home feel.
They are fine young chaps, my co-workers, but notoriously picky when it comes to food, and historically, not afraid to let their chef know it, so I was interested to see how they’d fare here. I needn’t have worried. They were treated like family by the chef, who elected to serve as our wait person as well as our cook, a wonderful personal touch. I’ve had fabulous dining experiences in the past at restaurants such as Gemmayze St on Karangahape Road, where you may sit down and say simply “jeeb”, which means “bring”, and the food will follow. Or at Italian joints such as Venosa in Kingsland, where you are served authentic dishes of arancini, prosciutto e melone, carbonara and rigatoni with slow-cooked pork ragu. “Feed me,” you shout, and on it all comes.
This approach did not seem to work so well at Our Place, but we soldiered on nonetheless, opting for the “chef’s selection” which was, on the night we dined, “spaghetti bolognese”. May we start with bread? I wondered. We could. If I fetched it myself. My co-workers demanded to know what dessert would be. Apparently, Our Place offered only “a mandarin” or “an apple” by way of dessert, the chef pointing out that my co-workers had already had several biscuits and a popsicle prior to coming to dine. I thought this approach delightful, being a fan of the plant-based dining trend, but my co-workers weren’t so impressed. They argued with the chef and demanded ice cream, but the chef was resolute. He even sent one of them out to the cloakroom to “cool off”. (That same co-worker, later in the meal, whacked his more junior coworker over the head with a light sabre, and was then sent to one of the restaurant’s smaller private rooms to continue his meal alone.) One must respect a proprietor who takes a firm hand with misbehaving guests.
The chef actually elected to sit down and dine with us at our table. He was quite handsome, in a familiar sort of way, so I didn’t mind, and took the opportunity to ask him about his food. “This is unusual,” I said to the chef, “a bolognese sauce made with pork mince.”
“There was no beef left on the shelves,” he replied, frowning. My further, perfectly reasonable, questions, about whether his produce was ethically sourced, whether his menu changed seasonally, or whether the butter he supplied with his “Molenberg” bread was whipped and/or truffled, were met with what at the time I took as a cool stare, but could have been, upon reflection, more of a genuine look of open animosity. Chefs are often highly strung, highly stressed people, so perhaps we can forgive him this minor attitudinal misstep.
So to the food: (The chef whispered the part about the vegetables to me, seemingly unwilling to discuss this aspect of the dish with my co-workers.) The acidity of the tomatoes was offset wonderfully by the tasty cheese sprinkled liberally on top. I thought it unusual to use tasty instead of parmesan, but the chef began muttering about costs when I brought this up and other things like “no work” and “no money” and “Covid-19”, so I didn’t like to persist in my questioning with regards to dairy products.
There was also parsley. The restaurant supplied much of its own garnishing produce; we could see several pots of herbs growing on the al fresco dining area outside, or “the deck”, as chef delightfully referred to it. I did see an overweight cat make a toilet of the soil under the potted lemon, but I’m sure that was just a once-off.
All in all, a wonderful meal. My co-workers are keen to try “Ruby and Eddy’s place” or “Nana’s” for our next group office meal because they have a reputation of being more generous with television and desserts, but I’m not so sure. What Our Place lacked in desserts, it made up for with absence of dress code. I didn’t even mind when the chef suggested that I do the dishes. 4 stars.