1 Polarity Rise, Silverdale, Auckland
Hours: Monday-Sat 7am-3pm
Things started encouragingly. A dear friend returning home from the UK for the Christmas holidays had suggested meeting there, on the recommendation of her mother. As her folks live in Matakana, and I live in Helensville, the idea of meeting in a “nonplace” suburban zone like Silverdale away from the pretension and congestion of inner-city Auckland appealed. And I was thrilled that at last there was a cafe outside the inner city suburbs that was avowedly friendly towards vegetarians and vegans, and big on organic and wholefoods to boot! (Although I was somewhat mystified that somehow it had completely escaped my attention for the best part of a year, even though I visit Silverdale regularly).
The day before lunching with my friend, I checked the Gather Wholefoods Facebook page (like many cafes and restaurants, they use Facebook as a de facto website) to make sure that it would be open. But when I arrived there at the appointed date and time, just on midday, something was amiss. While the front door was open, there was a barrier of chairs preventing anyone from entering. There was however, no sign explaining this aberration. I noticed that a side door leading to the kitchen was open, so I put my head in and asked a woman what was going on. She said that the food hadn’t arrived, and that they weren’t open. No sign of empathy or apology.
That day, I ended up having to lunch at a piss-poor cafe at the Silverdale mall. I still enjoyed the experience, because I love catching up with my dear friend, but the venue wasn’t what we had planned, and I felt let down by Gather Wholefoods. When I got home, I checked their Facebook page again to see whether they’d added anything about the unplanned closure, or apologised to anyone who might have turned up. Nothing. So the next day, when they were crowing about some lovely looking dish they had available, I put a short note on the page expressing disappointment that they weren’t open when they were advertised to be open, that they could have saved us a long drive had they bothered to inform would-be patrons, and that they could have at least put a sign on the door!
Unbelievably, my note remained (and probably remains) unanswered. This is not a portent of good things. Who knows, I thought, perhaps they are BRILLIANT at food, but not so good at public relations. So, this week when I had to do some shopping in the area, I took the wife and toddler to Gather Wholefoods to find out.
Even though it was a Saturday and just on lunchtime, we were at first the only patrons, with only a couple of others turning up while we were lunching. I have no idea if this is indicative, or whether patronage had just slumped because it was Auckland Anniversary Weekend. But the experience was a fairly desultory one, and to be honest, I’m in no hurry to return.
The setting is okay. It’s in a modern, airy building just a hop and a skip from the main drag, but not besmirched by the mall. The first problem were the display cabinets, which really didn’t have that much to display. There just wasn’t enough on show to make you feel that this was a bounteous foodie heaven: just four selections of salad, and a few savoury muffins.
The waitress was friendly enough, and suggested we take menus, and sit down to browse, then return to the counter to order when we were ready. What came as a shock was that most of the main items were $20 or over, although they do have a section of the menu devoted to small plates (presumably, those who are dieting) and another section for children. While they do have one completely vegan dish, and several others that can be prepared vegan, they do also have some meat/bacon dishes, which is sort of disappointing: bacon is the smelliest of meat offerings, and tends to dominate one’s olfactory senses so much that you almost feel like you’re tasting it. Happily though, no one ordered bacon while we were there.
We couldn’t help noticing that the menus were titled ‘Gather Spring Menu 2015’, which is a bit of a worry. I decided on the Nude Burger ($14) with a side of Kumara Hash ($4) and a soy flat white, while Yoko, who was mostly looking out for things our 16-month-old Minay could eat, ordered a combo plate of the three vegetarian salads (the fourth had meat in it) and a savoury muffin.
Silly me, I hadn’t clicked what a ‘nude’ burger was. No bun! What a disaster! Still, it had a very nice vegetable pattie which appeared to have nuts and seeds in it, and it was both tasteful and rather melt-in-mouth, despite having that slight powdery texture that comes with some pulse flours. The patties (two of them) were also a generous size. Accompanying the patties was a beet salad that got it just right, a small pottle of tasty cashew aioli, a few slices of rather bland tomatoes and a couple of rather pointless lettuce leafs. I was quietly impressed with the nude burger, but felt that the presentation lacked panache. And I know this is my paranoiac problem borne of too many so-called vegetarian meals that turned out to have meat in them, but because the menu gives the option of “free range beef or vegetable pattie”, I was ridiculously suspicious of mine. I mean, was it made from vegetables but taste-enhanced with dripping blood? But enough of my self-defeating negativity.
I would like to be able to report on the kumara hash, but it never turned up: they had forgotten to serve it, and I didn’t remember I had ordered it until I was nearly finished. Yoko enjoyed the salad selection, which comprised of a beetroot salad, greek salad and kumara salad, but compared to the salads at Kokako or Wild Cicada, they lacked pizzazz. Minay’s first exposure to olives wasn’t very happy, but she enjoyed the kumara, and the savoury muffin. The coffee? Well, my soy latte was well made, strong enough, but there’s something about an espresso machine on a quiet day: coffee always tastes better from a busy machine.
I felt that for the prices, there should have been table service. It seems rather naff to have to line up at a counter in a $20-plus-per-meal scenario. And while the waiting staff were friendly enough, they also weren’t terribly attentive. Perhaps that was because they were having a slow day, and had been put off their stroke. Maybe that’s why they forgot my kumara hash, as well. I can’t tell you how much the salads cost, because I forgot to get a GST receipt. In my opinion, EVERY cafe should habitually give their customers GST receipts so they know exactly what they’ve been charged.
Next time, if I’m feeling naughty, I might try a vegan version of their “light and fluffy almond and banana” Hotcake ($18) or their Vegan Breakfast Platter ($20). I hope by the time I return, that there’s a bit of life to this place. There’s SO much potential here, and it’s a pity to see them not realise that fully. GARY STEEL