Eating Out: Vangionis
There's much to like about Vangionis in Akaroa. Even though we went on a trying night - setting sun blasting us and a 50-strong wedding party dominating the restaurant's space and attention - I left keen to return.
I asked to sit inside as soon as I saw we were being steered towards the tables on the verandah baking in the setting sun. The answer: Sorry, no. The wedding party had booked out indoors for later. Other tables were complaining, too, so the plastic verandah walls were removed. But that solved the heat rather than the glare. Eventually the spinning earth came to the rescue.
So, a tip for Vangionis: It would be a good idea to get some shade organised for that time of day.
Vangionis is in a restored main street wooden building. It used to be a general store and the store's name has stuck. There's a great emphasis on homemade dishes, including charcuterie, and the wine list is excellent with more than 20 by the glass and a solid lineup of Kiwi craft beers. A big, cold 8 Wired IPA helped me survive until sunset.
The rustic Mediterranean food is satisfying and shows a genuine effort at authenticity. There's plenty of olive oil on just about everything.
I liked the flexibility of having a page of tapas to choose from, either as the multi- plate stage for the whole meal, or as a starter to a main. The dessert lineup is tiny with just three contenders.
Service hit a hiccup when a waitress who was struggling a little with English mistook my order for the shoulder of goat main for a goat's cheese tapas dish.
There were lots of apologies. The goat's cheese became a courtesy dish to help pass the time while the shoulder cooked for another 20 minutes. Yet still I was chipper.
The soft, very mild cheese was covered in a walnut and rosemary crust. It had an excellent minced beetroot jam condiment and the super crunchy garlic toast was just what it needed.
We also enjoyed vibrant green asparagus in a pool of herby, lemony butter with finely chopped pancetta, calamari on homemade fried potato chips with crispy house chorizo slices and a tender glazed pork rib on greens that was missing some promised crackling.
But the crisp and tangy apple, rocket and coriander salad it rested on contrasted nicely with the rich pork.
Easily the star of the night was the goat shoulder. It sat in splendour and with great visual drama on a pool of polenta surrounded by whole garlic cloves, kalamata olives and a vibrant orange carrot jus.
The dark, slow-roasted meat was mild flavoured and fell off the bone with the lightest of touches. Everything around it complemented it perfectly. I wasn't even hungry by then, but ate it blissfully.
The best dessert was panna cotta served with homemade boysenberry sorbet and a berry compote.
But another - an intriguing combination of chocolate mousse and creme brulee - failed to inspire. There was a macaroon base, then brulee custard, then mousse. It was heavy going with the one texture and they didn't exceed the sum of their parts.
Overall, though, Vangionis has a clear focus. It was buzzy and touristy and the strong local emphasis hits a lot of good notes.
We'll be back - with sunglasses.
Where: 40F Rue Lavaud, Akaroa
Contact: 03 304 7714, vangionis.co.nz
When: Open for dinner Wed to Sun from 5pm
Cost: Tapas $9-$19; mains $28-$39; desserts $13-$15
Upside: Authentic rustic Mediterranean-style dishes
Downside: The setting sun
Go again? Definitely