Review: Archive Bar and Bistro, Waiheke Island
In the mid 90s, Waiheke Island artist Denis O'Connor created a fictitious wine label called 372 Estate, and over the following years released "wines" in the form of engraved labels. These pieces used the language of wine culture as a device to delve into the history of Waiheke. He built on this by creating a walk-in diorama, the Archive Wine Bar, which was exhibited as part of Sculpture on the Gulf in 2015.
Robyn Jones, co-owner of Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant, had seen the sculpture and taken a fancy to it. She and the Mudbrick team had been thinking about how to provide guests with a less formal option than the Mudbrick restaurant – somewhere they could have a drink and some oysters, say, rather than a full three-course meal. She had an idea – why not buy the Archive Wine Bar, relocate it to Mudbrick and build a bar around it?
So last winter, the Archive Bar & Bistro opened quietly on the spectacular hill site that's home to Mudbrick Restaurant & Vineyard, a popular venue for weddings.
The spot it's on began life as an open courtyard but, as the menu's opening spiel puts it, "has morphed into a glamping-style undercover tent, to protect one from harsh UV rays or inclement weather".
The brick tiles of the courtyard remain, covered by a wooden-beamed structure with a canvas roof and glass doors that can open up fully when the weather is fine. We visited on a very blustery summer's day, so the doors were closed, and it felt rather cosy and buzzy as the room filled up and we took in the fabulous views. Pale marble tables, wooden wicker-seated chairs and copper-coloured leaf-motif chandeliers suit the rustic feel of the place.
The menu starts with a "for the table" section (breads, oysters, chicken liver parfait) before moving into entrees, mains, sides and desserts. It didn't appear to have changed much since one of us visited several months prior, and there was a definite winter feel to some of the dishes.
I was looking forward to starting with the buffalo mozzarella with asparagus, peas, preserved lemon and artichokes from the on-site gardens, which sounded like a summery delight, but on ordering was informed it wasn't available. I went instead for the roasted cauliflower steak with kale, brown butter, fried capers and golden raisins. This was delicious – the cauli perfectly roasted, with the capers, raisins and pine nuts providing salty, sweet and textural elements and blobs of a sweet emulsion complementing it nicely – but it seemed a little odd to be eating such wintry produce in January.
The recommended 2016 Mudbrick reserve viognier was an excellent match.
We were pleased to see piper on the menu, fried whole and served with sherry aioli, green olives and preserved lemon, and my dining companion wasn't disappointed with her order. The piper were well cooked, with a nice crisp batter, and the accompanying salad provided a sharp element to cut through the richness.
Both entree portions were large but we soldiered on to our next dishes. I ordered parmesan gnocchi with blue cheese, pumpkin, hazelnuts and brown butter – perhaps too heavy an option following my starter, but I had been put on the back foot a little by the last-minute unavailability of the mozzarella – while my date opted for a saffron pappardelle with prawns, clams and snapper.
Both dishes appeared to have been sitting out a touch too long when they were brought to the table, and the waitstaff, while on the whole very good, did seem a little frazzled – it appears they were working both the bistro and the Mudbrick restaurant. In addition to not being told about the mozzarella's unavailability, we weren't offered a second glass of wine when our empty glasses were removed, before our mains had arrived. Their menu knowledge was good, though, and wine matches spot on.
Both main courses were a tad underwhelming. The flavours in my gnocchi dish worked well enough but the gnocchi themselves were a little
on the gluey side, and the blobs of pumpkin puree that topped the dish seemed like an unnecessary afterthought. The saffron pappardelle, meanwhile, was an attractive dish, nicely cooked, but the various elements didn't quite meld together as well as they could have. A spoon to scoop up the juices in the bowl would have been nice too.
Homemade brioche donuts were the last thing we needed but we couldn't resist, and weren't disappointed.
The accompanying raspberry and rhubarb jam was delicious and the doughnuts weren't too rich. We greedily ordered a buffalo yoghurt panna cotta too, with pistachio biscotti, rhubarb and strawberry. The panna cotta itself was a bit too firm – where was the wobble? – but the flavour of all elements was excellent.
The Archive is a welcome addition to Waiheke's vineyard dining scene, and provides a great excuse to visit the beautiful Mudbrick site without having to fork out for a wedding present.
Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant
126 Church Bay Rd, Oneroa
09 372 9050, mudbrick.co.nz
Lunch & dinner 7 days