It seems if you want to find a good bar/restaurant in a cool building in Auckland these days, you need to search out one which was created by Pack & Company. With recent successes The Commons, Roxy, Everybody's and Imperial Lane, and a plethora of other hotspots under its belt (La Zeppa, Snapdragon, Shaky Isles, Nuffield St, Neighbourhood and Northern Steamship Brew Bars), Pack has many of the places you want to be.
Newest of these is Libertine at the slowly regenerating Victoria Park Market. The heritage building, next door to La Zeppa, has been lovingly restored. Downstairs the bar area features low, leather couches and a large tree growing up to the high ceiling; upstairs the dining room is flooded with natural light, it has big tables and bench seat divided by chainmail curtains, and an open kitchen.
But spring is in the air so we want to be on the large, sun-drenched deck. A waitress tells us to take a seat outside and she'll be with us shortly. So we do, and she isn't. It takes a long time for us to get any attention but just as we're about to lose patience, she returns with menus, apologies and a winning smile.
One look at the menu and I forget our wait. The food is Caribbean and Latin American influenced, so most dishes contain a touch of spice. We choose five which arrive promptly, and after the shaky start the waitress is friendly, attentive and full of personality throughout our visit.
The food is excellent. Compared with similar dishes at other establishments around town, Libertine's shared plates are in a class of their own. Melt-in-your-mouth tender, the pan-fried calamari mixed with kalamata olives, chorizo, coriander and a deliciously sweet smoked tomato chutney is divine.
The blackened jerk chicken bites are fantastically fiery, with a rich paprika dipping sauce on the side; and the spicy meat balls have a chilli kick which leaves a pleasing tingle. The hand-cut fries, a mix of spicy and sweet potato, are long, thick, crisp on the outside and fluffy and soft on the inside. But the curried goat croquettes are the highlight of the five; the shredded meat is tender and juicy with a delicious light breadcrumb and a sweet mango chutney on the side.
The deck is so sunny I'm reluctant to leave, so I twist Boyfriend's arm to share a dessert, a pumpkin pie with delicious crumbly pastry and a scoop of salted caramel icecream on top. A great end to a top-notch meal.
WHERE: 37 Drake St, Freemans Bay, Auckland, ph 09 929 2790, libertine.co.nz.
WHEN: Monday to Thursday, 4pm-late; Friday to Sunday, noon-late.
WHAT'S TO EAT: A daily rotisserie special, Caribbean influenced main meals and shared plates.
HOW MUCH: $90 for five shared plates, one dessert, two coffees and a soda water.
WHAT DO WE THINK: Excellent addition to the Auckland dining scene.
Sunday Star Times