The good service begins before we even walk in the door. I ring Penelope Cafe in the morning, inquiring about a website (it's under construction) and the range of prices for mains (under $20). The responding voice says, "What's your email address - I'll send you a copy of our menu".
We are impressed, and so now here we are in Parnell. While on the phone I should have made a reservation because the waitress has to drag two small tables together and pinch available chairs to fit us in. Then she rushes off to find something to fix the wobbly table.
It's the lunch rush and Penelope is busy, yet we feel like the only customers in the room.
Penelope first fired up its stovetops at the end of June. The space is clean and bright, with light wooden floors, white walls, art and quirky lamps. The waitress is filling our water glasses (which remain topped up the whole time as staff unfailingly attend to our every need) when another table becomes available - a booth seat with one big table for four, not two small ones patched together.
"Would you like to be upgraded to business class?” the cheery manager jokes. We're grateful but settled and happy where we are.
The menu is extensive. There's a health conscious section containing meals like a salad of baby spinach and silken tofu with kumara, broccoli, zucchini and Japanese sesame dressing.
Today our best intentions are swept aside - tofu will not cut it on this rainy Sunday. A Zen burger, zucchini fritters and calamari plus a side of chunky fries are ordered. And coffees - which are very good.
My fritters are filling. Three plump discs arrive with generous strips of bacon and a rocket and feta salad with tzatziki. The fritters are listed on the menu as "spicy" but while I can't taste the zing, they are certainly flavoursome.
The calamari is sampled and enjoyed by all, and the salad is highly praised with its scattered melon and chilli caramel dressing.
The burger is tasty with a chunky slab of beef, onion, bacon, barbecue sauce and mayo. The chips are crispy - crispier than the ones we ordered as a side.
By the time we're ready to leave, the small cabinet has been all but emptied but that's OK, it just gives us one more good reason to return.
WHERE: 129 Parnell Rd, Auckland, ph 09 377 8288.
WHEN: Monday to Friday, 7am-4pm; Saturday, 8am-4pm; Sunday, 8.30am-3pm.
WHAT'S TO EAT: Original dishes mixed in with brunch favourites.
HOW MUCH: $72.90 for three mains, one side and two coffees.
WHAT DO WE THINK: We'll be returning to make our way through the extensive menu.
- Sunday Star Times