As addicted as I am to the coffee and unique surf views at Maranui Cafe, it's not to everybody's taste, least of all to my mate Andy, who was in a bit of a black mood Friday last.
"Nah bro," he said, "let's not go there - it's loud, feral and clattery. It's far too full of yummy film industry mummies from Miramar and their screaming spoiled brats. And besides, you have to fight for a table."
Oh, dear. OK, I agreed, let's shelter from the helter-skelter.
So, around the corner we drove, making would say) worthy detour to the relative hush of Elements.
Despite the inferences of the name, Elements is the polar opposite of boisterous.
It's the ideal venue for a meal with your mum or gran for, despite being busy, it's never loud: ever polite and thoroughly considerate, the patrons here speak in muffled voices. Even a party of bouffy, tough-looking fifty-somethings at a table over the way was maintaining a respectful tone.
Scott and Nicola Barrett have kept the same decor since opening eight years ago, including two craggy love hearts made of twisted vines.
On the wall, now serving as a mirror, is the door to the meat chiller that once filled the back room. Elements, you see, is sited in a former butcher shop, and its two side rooms used to be a post office and a library serving the small shopping centre that existed here until about 40 years ago, when Kilbirnie took over.
Most of the shopfronts have now been converted to other uses, although the old dears still come in for their perms at the Lyall Bay Hair Centre over the road.
On a fine sunny day, then, you can sit at a table on the footpath and bask in the peace and quiet of a ghost town.
With the midday sun warming our backs, Andy's mood lifted palpably, especially with the onset of Scott Barrett's barrage of deliciousness. When Elements first opened, Barrett was among the first chefs to offer Zany Zeus's fried halloumi cheese. It's still on the menu, nowadays as an open sandwich on olive bread with salad and the refreshingly complementary flavour of sliced beetroot. (Goodness, how trendy beetroot has become.)
An individual chicken pate, artfully unmoulded to reveal a cap of plum jelly, tasted even flasher than it looked - delicious! And the thin melba toast is absolutely classic.
Poached rhubarb and raspberry tart was an inspired combination and the texture of the accompanying chocolate mousse was superb.
Perhaps the yummiest thing I ate was the seared salmon, served over soft cubes of spice-roasted pumpkin, mint leaves and the odd bit of chilli, with lumps of roasted shallot for crunch, and a classic Southeast Asian dressing (coconut cream, lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar).
Nicola Barrett has an easy but efficient style of service, as does her team.
I have to say, however, that they tended to screen my requests through a filter of what the conservative clientele might expect.
Having ordered my salmon very rare, it came medium rare, because that is how most punters like it. It's not uncommon, Barrett told me later, for customers to order their salmon cooked right through (yuck).
Elements clientele always used to set their crisply fried salmon skin to one side, which is why he has begun taking the skin off the salmon, including the piece he served me.
I protest: for me, the crispy skin is one of the nicest parts of the salmon. Besides, my teeth being still intact, I'm not ready for the pap of the old folks' home just yet.
One things you should try
Braised lamb shoulder pie, skordalia, crushed peas & jus
How much more muttony flavour there is in a shoulder of lamb, here refined into this modern version of peas, pie and mash. By his own admission, Barrett cheats a little with the skordalia, and brings it into the realm of comfort food. As with the seared salmon, this classic Greek garlic sauce based on mashed potato is adapted to the palate of Barrett's demographic: rather than serve the garlic full-on and raw, it's cooked and emulsified into butter and cream that replace the traditional yoghurt. Furthermore, the flavours of lemon juice and olive oil, those other two stalwarts of a traditional skordalia, are here understated, in keeping with the Anglo spirit of the dish
- © Fairfax NZ News