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By Brenda Ward
A meal at Gerome in Parnell, Auckland takes Brenda Ward back to a delicious shared feast in an orange grove in Greece.
As I slip a tender sliver of lamb with a creamy smear of yoghurt and pinenuts into my mouth, for a moment I could be in another place, many years before.
It was winter but the sun over the orange orchard near Nafplion in the Peloponnese was warm. We had been picking oranges, and our hands were sticky with juice. Our lunch was lovingly spread out by the black-clad yiayia (grandmother) and her daughters, on a long table under a bower.
Newlyweds on our OE, my husband and I were with a band of colourful tourists from around the world, gathered around a peasant-style feast of crisp-crusted roast lamb, olives, salad, macaroni tossed in meat juices, and retsina wine.
Then another mouthful brings me back to Auckland, to an elegant vaulted room with a buzzy vibe. This taste is a juicy explosion of compressed watermelon that brings unexpected freshness, offsetting the richness of the meat.
Yes, this food is Greek, but at the same time, it’s not; honouring its Mediterranean heritage but fusing an ancient cuisine with modern flavours.
I’m sitting in a turquoise velvet banquette on the ground floor of the hottest new restaurant in Auckland, Parnell’s Gerome – and it’s our wedding anniversary dinner.
This is just how owner Ramiz Malik wants his restaurant to be. “Here I want people to have their birthdays, anniversaries, keep their memories, and make whole new memories, with my signature.”
Tipped by many to be the restaurant that will reinvigorate Parnell, Gerome has emerged as a sophisticated dining venue with a casual ambience, on the site of the former Iguaçu.
Malik says it was the Iguaçu space that called him back to Auckland from Sydney. The restaurateur, who owned two Aubergine restaurants, one in Takapuna, one in Sydney, says Iguaçu was the first restaurant he’d visited when he flew into Auckland from London.
“I spent a lot of time in the bar, dined here a lot of times, I love this restaurant! This place, for me, is not just a place where people eat and drink. A restaurant is more about memories, energy, family – this is what I believe.”
Italian tiles, marble tables, a Bang & Olufsen sound system, individually adjustable air-conditioning under your seat, Riedel glassware, a Gordon Ramsay-trained chef who’s worked in Paris . . . there are no compromises here.
“You are not a customer, you are my guest and this is my house,” says Malik.
The sexy bar is caged in brass rails, and for a relaxed after-work snack, you can dine at a leaner. The top level is more intimate, including a private room; courtyard dining is al fresco, with olive trees and a canopy.
At the table next to ours sits a group of Parnell residents. They were sceptical but have taken the advice of their waiter, with a trio of plates to share. They’re beaming.
“We’ll be back!” they say as they leave. “Happy anniversary!”
“Your anniversary?” says our waiter. Two flutes of champagne appear as we order the loukoumades, with a chocolate-nut sauce, coffee ice cream, and shattered hazelnuts.
One mouthful of the dessert and we’re transported once more back by the Med, sharing a sticky doughnut-style dessert in a smoky little kafeneío.
We too remember this place when it was ‘the Alex’ pub, where we’d listen to the Sunday jazz in the courtyard, then Iguaçu, filled with media types and stockbrokers on long lunches.
No longer a kitschy ‘colonial’ village, as we walk past the galleries and boutiques, we see that Parnell is maturing.
Says Malik: “I feel Parnell is like Europe when you walk down the street. It’s not like it was. I’m putting all my passion, my love into it.”