Cafe delivers country comfort with ease
Making a decent risotto is a test of any cafe and so is capable handling of customers with toddlers. When both these elements come together at one table - risotto orders and toddlers - there could be potential for disaster.
Punnet Cafe, at Tamahere, did very well with both on a recent Friday. There were six at our table for my friend Rosemary's birthday lunch, her 18-month-old twin granddaughters among us.
So that meant two highchairs (available on site), and two orders for little people who don't know about the niceties of waiting a bit for your food. The twins' parents ordered scrambled eggs, chicken nuggets and fries from the kids' menu, and I was impressed that these dishes arrived promptly, ahead of the adults' orders. It was excellent timing, the twins dived in, and the pottle of tomato sauce provided with the nuggets got a good workout along with everything else.
The kids' food was served in deep china bowls that were a bit tricky on the highchair trays, so the staff switched everything to flat wooden platters. No problem.
The only glitch with the twins was entirely accidental. A staff member inadvertently bumped a highchair, earning vocal protest and dark looks from the occupant. He was very apologetic and although the occupant remained unimpressed, the adults enjoyed some banter with him over it.
We were very well looked after and we enjoyed the food, particularly the roast pumpkin risotto, which two of us ordered. It is a perfect time of year to have pumpkin on the menu, and Punnet Cafe - on the McMahon family's strawberry farm in a rural district of plenty - clearly makes the best of locally sourced seasonal produce.
The risotto ($19.50) was beautifully creamy, cooked by confident hands, the pumpkin enhanced by crispy fried sage, pancetta, parmesan and pinenuts. It was a fine bowl of flavour.
Starting from the beginning, though, we'd earlier shared a plate of chicken liver parfait served with crusty grilled bread, onion marmalade, tasty mini gherkins and green leaves ($14.50). The parfait was velvet-smooth, the accompaniments well-judged, cutting the richness. The birthday person commented that it was so much better than the parfaits and pates you buy in plastic pottles.
Punnet's lunch mains include the aforementioned risotto, pear and watercress salad, caesar salad, pulled pork sandwich, wild venison burger and a slow-braised lamb shank (the braise changes each month).
Prices range from $17.50 to $25, there is table service, and it's more of a destination lunch (and breakfast) place than a budget eat-and-run outing - although some cabinet food is available.
The other orders at our table were the burger, a substantial platter with a homemade Raukumara Red venison patty in a decent-looking bun, plus condiments and fries; and slow-braised lamb shank and vegetables. The slow- braise man would have liked a bit more quantity, but from what I saw of it before it disappeared, the lamb was tender and nicely matched with its vegetables.
We shared a bottle of aromatic Lake Hayes sauvignon blanc from the short but adequate wine list, split some sweet slices for dessert and had well-made coffee to finish.
It was all successfully managed by the staff, in the kitchen and out front; the twins plundered the toy box after they were done with their food; and we departed happily. Well done, Punnet.
WHERE: Punnet Cafe, at The Straw Berry Farm, 337 Newell Rd, Tamahere; phone 07 838 1901; licensed.
WHEN: Open seven days for breakfast, lunch and coffee.
FOOD: Separate breakfast and lunch menus, thoughtfully chosen, with emphasis on fresh seasonal ingredients. Some good-looking cakes and savoury cabinet food as well. Well-made coffee and decent beverage selection.
SERVICE: We couldn't fault it. Plenty of chilled water offered and nice extra touches such as vintage china side plates and chunky wooden platters. Family friendly.
BONUS: Location, location: rural setting, children's playground, outdoor seating, the very tempting Country Providore store a few steps away, and fresh strawberries to look forward to in spring.