Is it fair to review an eatery less than a week after it's opened? I once asked a much more hard-bitten reviewer than me this question, and he replied: "If they're taking your money, they should be on their game."
So, on that basis, my sister-in-law Denise (she who shares my name) and I headed out for dinner at Good Neighbour Brew Bar at Rototuna on a damp Tuesday night, less than a week after it opened.
Good Neighbour is in the style of its brother establishment, Good George Brewery in Frankton. It is the latest hospo offering from Hamilton's Phoenix Group.
We've all watched Good Neighbour's construction. It occupies a large chunk of former car parking in the Rototuna shopping precinct. It sits comfortably there, and I like its strong architectural bones, its pitched roofline channelling the church hall history of the Frankton Good George, but with an industrial edge.
Good Neighbour's Facebook page said they weren't taking bookings for small groups, so we wandered in and seats were quickly found. Our greeter told us our waitress would be Greer. This was later changed to Jade, and Jade looked after us most pleasantly.
There were plenty of staff, and systems looked to be running smoothly. At the end of the evening we had to wave to someone that we wanted dessert, but this was sorted immediately and we didn't wait long for any of our orders to arrive.
I like the spacious downstairs restaurant area. It's been skilfully furnished so you don't feel you're eating in a barn. A degree of intimacy has been achieved, although it's noisy and probably not the place for a romantic tete-a-tete.
I was lucky enough to be seated with a view into the open kitchen. It was a nice little slice of culinary theatre, as white-clad staff danced around each other, cooking and plating.
The menu has pizzas, named after Rototuna landmarks; a range of small plates, including steamed mussels and smoked fish chowder; a couple of robust- sounding salads; two pastas; and four Smokehouse dishes - beef brisket, chicken thigh, salmon and pork ribs - this being Good Neighbour's signature range.
The Smokehouse dishes, all $32, come fully plated with vegetables and chargrilled beer bread. The pizzas are $22-$23, and salads and pasta are roughly in this range too. Beer and cider matches are suggested for the Smokehouse dishes.
The menu proudly notes that this establishment is 100 per cent locally owned, and uses as much local produce as possible. I like that.
Beer, of course, is big here. Fresh beer is delivered daily from the Frankton brewery and a signature range will soon be made on site. I only drink beer at the beach, on a hot summer day, but I was tempted by the cider and enjoyed a glass of Good George's rosy, fruity Black Doris plum. Denise had Mills Reef Syrah from a short but adequate list of mostly New Zealand wines. They also have sauvignon blanc and pinot noir on tap.
We both ordered from the Smokehouse range, clearly a step up from standard pub food: I had beef brisket, which seemed perfect for a cold night. It was marinated with English mustard and spices, smoked in oak and hickory woodchips and served with smoked gruyere mash, jus and broccolini to cut the richness.
Denise had Marlborough salmon cured in a citrus, herb and spice brine, and smoked with manuka and cherry wood chips. It was served with smoked vegetable tabbouleh and bearnaise. Both dishes came with beer bread.
The brisket was generous, and nicely presented, the jus was rich, velvety and delicious, the mash beautifully creamy and tasty. But the brisket, although full of the promised flavours, was too chewy. I'd expected it to be fall-off-the-fork tender; it wasn't, it needed longer cooking. Denise's salmon and its accompaniments were spot on, and the tidbit of salmon that I whisked off her was perfectly cooked.
Both meals were served on lovely big plates, which had a kind of old-school pottery look about them. The china and glassware have been carefully chosen. The entire fit-out, right down to the individual teapots and staff T-shirts, has been put together by capable hands.
For dessert, we shared a plate of mini- doughnuts ($10.90), served with smoked chocolate ganache and icecream. The doughnuts were dusted with cinnamon sugar, and little pieces dunked in the gorgeous ganache were an excellent way to end the evening.
They've thought of the little things as well as the big stuff here. Keep up the good work.
What: Good Neighbour Brew Bar, 44 Horsham Downs Rd, Rototuna, Hamilton, ph 07 855 3810. When: Open Mon-Fri, 10am-late; Sat-Sun, 9am-late.
Food: Something for everyone: pizza, pasta, salads etc, plus the Smokehouse signature dishes. I like the emphasis on good quality local ingredients.
Drink: Locally brewed beer and cider (of course), and a no-nonsense wine list.
Service: Good training shows.
Bonus: The building. Love it.
- Waikato Times