Looking back on Oratia’s Roadhouse
Uncle and nephew writing team Dave and Drew Harre spent 12 years working on their new book Roadhouse Days.
The result is more than just a history, it’s a piece of their family folklore.
Roadhouse Days is a record of the restaurant that once went by the same name in Oratia.
The eatery has long since closed but the building remains and is home to Dave and his clan.
Dave, 70, was keen to write the book while the material in it was still accessible.
"Every time someone dies those various ideas are gone and now we’ve got them in a reasonably permanent form of a book," he says.
His research took him to Australia and France.
"I was totally astonished by how much information there still was," he says. "Once you start exploring you can almost get a mirrored account of many things that have happened."
The Roadhouse restaurant was run by Dave’s late mother Marge Harre who found herself struggling to cope as a solo mum in 1948.
Marge was milking cows for a living when a close friend came up with an idea.
The friend said:
"Marge there is no more pulling bloody cows tits for you, you’re starting a restaurant."
"She did," Dave says. "She was a great cook and so Auckland’s very first fine food restaurant was born."
Marge, who died in 1985 aged 84, loved her kitchen.
So the family preserved and shifted it to another part of the property.
A wide clientele was served a selection of Italian and French cuisine at the Roadhouse until it closed in 1966.
Guests included visiting actors, a governor-general and members of the Fisher and the Paykel families.
Dave slept upstairs as a child and remembers hanging a microphone down a kitchen vent as a nine-year-old.
"I could be upstairs in my room listening with headphones to every conversation people had in the kitchen," he says. "This gave me quite an insight into all sorts of things – sexual and scandalous."
World famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin ate there once during a tour of New Zealand and took offence at a violin hanging on the wall.
"He said: ‘Violins are for music not for decoration’," Dave says.
Drew also grew up on the Oratia estate but left New Zealand in his late teens. He met his wife in Paris and has remained there since.
The 53-year-old connoisseur owns two restaurants in the French capital and dates his love of food and wine back to the Roadhouse days.
"I used to sit on a stack of newspapers in the kitchen watching Nan," Drew says.
He is not the only one to have fallen under Marge’s influence. One of his brothers is a wine judge for Air New Zealand and another makes wines.
"Mal makes wine, Jim tastes wine and I drink it with Dave," Drew says.
The Harre family has a long history in west Auckland and is linked to a number of early pioneers. Dave is involved extensively in various restoration projects.
Roadhouse Days is self published.
Call Dave on 818-7816 if you would like a copy.