The desserts are slamming.
But all in good order. It's nice to have the Verbena space back again. I think they've removed a partition in the dining room (from memory) and have rather packed it with small tables, which made it look very empty (which it was). The garden, though, charmingly candlelit, was busy enough on a perfect night for dining outside. The staff need to be sent away for a day to "service camp" to be drilled in the basics. The servers are extremely knowledgeable and articulate about the food, but otherwise there was the feeling that neither the waiters nor the busboys had worked in restaurants before. Service came from all sides, unpredictably; dishes repeatedly arrived before empty plates had been cleared, requiring diners to help servers juggle with crockery; utensils usually had to be requested; wine was left for diners to pour. It was all rather sweet and hopeless, but they only opened last Thursday and we must give them a chance.
But the food? Authentically and strictly raw (can anyone remember the temperature which must not be surpassed?) and really good. I am not a tomato connoisseur, but the tomato tartare was most enjoyable, kicked up by fresh sage, and lapped by an almost liquid foam based on coconut cream. A scoop of grainy mango on top did nothing for the dish, but nor did it interfere. Triangles of something which tasted like pumpernickel bread accompanied it well.
Spicy Thai lettuce wraps, containing cabbage, mango, nuts, and goodness knows what, were the least interesting dish sampled, only because similar offerings are commonly found in veggie restaurants around town. The dipping sauce was oddly vinegary, and the spiciness was barely apparent. Flutes of Laurent Perrier saw us through this course.
Entrees were all thoroughly enjoyable. Wherever the menu mentions something which you'd think would be cooked - pizza, pasta, etc - trickery is at work. A truffled pasta dish consisted of strands of squash, cooked to an entirely spaghetti-like texture and consistency, bathed in a summer truffle sauce, with big slice of summer truffles, and garnished with pea shoots. Excellent. I also liked the beet ravioli, the parcels themselves made of thinly sliced beetroot (bottom tended to drop off, but no matter) and stuffed with cashew cheese, which I can only describe as a cheesy substance redolent of cashews - well, what did you expect? With a creamy sauce, these were great. So good, in fact, that the other ravioli dish was demanded as an extra course: these were white ravioli, made of a skin created from coconut flesh, and stuffed with green asparagus and porcini, with a balsamic dressing.
Very successful, and washed down with an inexpensive bottle of Bonny Doon Vin Gris. I apologize for not giving the wine list more attention - I had meant to report more thoroughly. I was tempted by a Henschke riesling at around forty bucks.
Okay, puddings. A "cookie" - a dark thing, somewhere between a chewy cookie and a brownie, but in fact made of pressed coconut meat (chocolate rather than coconut flavored, though). Dense and delicious (I see Choccie didn't like it), served with a bland scoop of pistachio "ice cream", and a nicer scoop of chocolate. But the hit was the ginger parfait with fresh strawberries. If you like fresh ginger, which I do, then this is for you. I would have taken a gallon of the parfait home, quite happily.
Speaking of which, the old Bar Demi space, which will be Pure Juice and Takeaway, is still under heavy construction and clearly won't be open for a while yet. This is a place with much promise, and fairly priced: a full dinner, with an extra entree, champagne and wine, for less than a hundred bucks a head (before tip). Oh, and they haven't got an espresso machine yet.