Unassuming from the outside and tucked away near the Franklin Rd corner, guests enter into a cosy, bohemian space, much like your crazy Great Aunt Maud's sitting room.
A waft of something deliciously cheesy tantalises through the open doors of Sunday Painters. Unassuming from the outside and tucked away near the Franklin Road corner, guests enter into a cosy, bohemian space set aglow with lamps and delicate chandeliers, much like your crazy Great Aunt Maud's sitting room.
Despite being fully booked on a Wednesday night, the atmosphere is neither frantic nor loud. Our merry group of five was seated at a corner table by the window, which gave us a nice view of our elegantly playful surroundings: Wine is stacked in a latticed rack over the counter, and mismatched china plates adorn the turquoise walls (which the scientist friend says is an unusual choice for a restaurant, as green is meant to suppress hunger – I question this logic as the smells coming from the kitchen kept me ravenous).
The historian friend was impressed the original Victorian pressed-tin ceiling was still in place. Flowering bamboo artwork, hand-painted floor tiles and an odd painting of a wolf biting another wolf’s throat divulge the background of owners Esther Lamb, James Kirkwood and Isobel Thom: a group of artists who met to paint and enjoy good food on Sundays, hence the restaurant’s name.
I like the look of the cocktails, especially the Monk Antrim's mint julep (Makers Mark, Barbados rum, pineapple and mint) but as it's well past cocktail hour we decide to share a bottle of Harrier Rise 2006 merlot; mellifluent and well-priced at $40 from a petite but thoughtful European/New Zealand wine list.
The service was faultless. It's attentive but not pushy; specials and what's off the menu were explained as our menus were given.
Downstairs cosily seats 40, while the banquet room upstairs, complete with dripping candles and long table, seats 20. A poke around upstairs revealed an empty room with plush armchairs, which according to a friendly waiter is used for seating people with their cocktails if their table isn't ready – saving you being squashed against the bar awkwardly trying not to spill your pinot down your front.
From the quirky Franglais-infused menu we shared a goats cheese souffle 'avec' parsley sauce 'et' sorrel salad which was delightfully ethereal with just the right amount of tang, and succulent pan-seared scallops with cauliflower puree and a delicate leek vinaigrette. The chargrilled calamari stuffed with chorizo disappeared too fast for me to even get a sniff at, but I was told it was delectable, if a little too small. The standout was the beetroot tart tartin, with its caramel sweetness balanced out by the piquant whipped goats cheese. Indeed, the chef friend said that based on the entrees alone she would come here again – high praise indeed from a typically fussy diner.
Unfortunately, a long wait ensued between entrees and mains, even though the place was starting to clear out. We started to get the tiniest bit hangry, so ordered another drink round to appease the pangs.
When the lip-smacking mains appeared they were presented simply on Crown Lynn china and in keeping with the paired-back aesthetic of the food. Two of us chose the fish du jour: crispy-skinned snapper on a bed of spring's new asparagus, with a celeriac and pink peppercorn sauce. Lucky the service was prompt clearing away the plates, as I was just about to lick mine. Another choice was the duck confit with black beluga lentils and red wine shallots. While the duck was unctuous and fell off the bone, the lentils were underwhelming and lacked basic seasoning.
We decided not to stay for dessert due to all having an early start the next day – something I later regretted, as the chocolate tarte with red wine poached pear lingered on my mind for the next few days. But I comforted myself with the knowledge there will soon be a return visit to the charming Sunday Painters, a perfect spot for a comforting mid-week dinner with good friends.
Photo Credit: Todd Eyre