Privately-owned Willowbean is, indeed, fairly new: a bit older than the year but it’s on the same spot that predecessor Willowmead Junction (run by Innscor) occupied for six years, at Rolfe Valley.
And proprietrix Gill Harrison, a veteran pro events coordinator who once ran The Gables, Glen Lorne (she handled the first Standard Restaurant of the Year Awards) had the nous to keep key Willowmead staff, including chef Alfred Zinjeni and head waiter, Judah; both have worked there since 2004.
Innscor pulled out of Willowmead totally and the former fresh fruit and vegetables set-up stands empty and forlorn, as it has done since late last year.
The restaurant, however, is pumping and was certainly busy when I called for Tuesday lunch. All other vehicles parked were of the big 4WD oyster-hued tinted-window variety with CD plates and there was a table of enthusiastic fresh-faced St John’s College sixth-formers having milkshakes and smoothies.
Folk ate indoors in the attractive large rustic pole-and-thatch construction or outdoors: pleasantly warm in the sun, out of a biting wind. Trademark art, a feature of Willowmead, has gone, but Willowbean features stunning framed mirrors. Increasing the apparent size of the dining area, they are samples of styles which can be made to measure.
Soup was highly recommended by Judah and this soupaholic needed no second urging to order a deep, steaming bowl of cream of onion and potato: rich, velvety, made more eye-appealing by folding in chopped fresh basil.
A sprig of basil also accompanied the light still hot freshly baked roll I shouldn’t have eaten, slathered in butter. I was man enough to spurn a second roll and butter Judah brought. This dish is US$6 and a meal on its own.
Which explains why I left about a third of a very rich, creamy, still al dente pasta, chicken and mushroom carbonara, which would have come with a third roll had I wanted it!
Willowbean is not yet licensed to sell hooch but you can take your own. I settled for a lovely glass of chilled borehole water, another of home-made lemonade (refreshing and on the house) and almond and honey cappuccino (US$2).
If you’re wondering why this week’s review’s short, it’s because the lady who lays the page says the five accompanying pictures I took say it all. If a picture’s worth 1 000 words, that’s another 5 000 of them you’re getting in addition to these 420!