by Sara Dinnen
It’s a grand idea. Getting someone else to cook Christmas Day lunch means also not having to do the dishes.
The problem was, a great many others thought the same way and most restaurants open in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands were fully booked four days before the day. Luckily there were four spaces at Zane Grey’s restaurant on the waterfront in Paihia so a unilateral decision was made on the spot to book for four. And then tell the other three. They all agreed to come.
The other agreement came in the form of thankfulness. Thankful we live in New Zealand and not Europe – where all of us have lived at some point in our lives – and that we could indeed go out to celebrate this Christian festival.
The day was warm and sunny and started off rather well at the Information Centre on Russell wharf. We were bound for the passenger ferry to pleasantly cross the beautiful bay to Paihia. When a famous local, Tim Grant, says have some champagne and orange juice and shoves a glass in one’s hand, who is one to disagree?
Unfortunately, the restaurant advised us, no booking had been made. But they could (and one suspected reluctantly) give us a table. The booking had been made, the invoice paid, the email of confirmation sent. Thank goodness for mobile phones so all was proven.
Even so, the maître ‘d said it could be discussed after the meal and we wondered why when the documentation was evident. He then said the ‘person concerned’ would ‘leave her family gathering and come down and sort it out’. Good, since it was her responsibility in the first place to have advised the restaurant of the booking.
That didn’t take the edge off the occasion, especially when he offered to shout us the first round of drinks. It was Christmas day after all and we had a table by the window looking out to sea. We had a choice between a glass of 150mls or 250mls. When it’s free it’s entirely sensible to adopt the higher figure don’t you think?
Between the four of us we managed to sample just about everything on the menu and considering the restaurant was full and busy, the service was prompt. We stabbed our forks into little bits of the meals of others and pronounced it all excellent. The chefs did an amazing job in very busy circumstances.
We pondered what an Amuse Bouche was. It headed the menu. Was it something pleasant for the mouth? Perhaps that meant a sorbet with a fancier title? Something hilarious to make us all laugh and stretch our bouche? We didn’t know.
Having snapper in a restaurant is something of a rarity these days so that was why two of us chose that. The vegetarian from Paihia opted for the duet pork as a starter because he doesn’t eat meat at home and then confirmed his flexible attitudes by having the wagyu beef brisket for main.
The dessert entitled ‘deconstructed pavlova’ caused some discussion. Could it be Eton Mess, smashed pav with strawbs? Maybe the waitress would bring us eggs, caster sugar and a beater and tell us to whip up our own. That would be an amusement for both the bouche and the le bras.
It wasn’t far off it, in fact, it was scorched meringue on top with raw meringue underneath, a bit dodgy to eat in hot weather, said one at the table, but she has spent time in Thailand so maybe it’s dodgier there. She was possibly thinking of the raw eggs but in the end the two who opted for the deconstructed pavlova didn’t suffer any ill effects.
The dark chocolate ‘ornament’ dessert looked like a Christmas bauble that usually hangs off a tree. It was sprinkled with gold dust (of the edible sort not the stuff that’s $1,905 per ounce) and was certainly tasty. We were too busy eating to photograph these.
Before departing we found out what Amused the Bouche. It was a marinated fish dish and we would have loved to have had an entertaining taste test but it wasn’t offered. The waitress forgot, just as she forgot to serve from the left and, instead, reached across a sitting diner. Two at the table are experienced in these things and get annoyed when they’re not done properly.
That didn’t quite detract from the day. Zane Grey’s did really well to produce an excellent menu and have it delivered promptly. They were full for lunch (two sittings) and dinner (three sittings) so the staff would have been tired at the end of the day. But they did wonderfully well.
And the person responsible for not booking our table apparently came down and sorted it out. She apologised profusely, said the maitre’d. Just not to us