Wooed by bi­valves

Fear­ing for the fu­ture of oys­ters leads to din­ner envy

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - RESTAURANT + WINE - Kim Knight

“Do you like oys­ters?” asked the wait­per­son. “Do you like bread?” “We do,” we replied. She beamed. “We have bread AND oys­ters,” she said, like we had won the lot­tery. In fact, we’d been put in that slightly awk­ward po­si­tion where you ei­ther ig­nore the screams from your credit card, or you ask “how much” like some sort of un­cul­tured, cheap-arse. “How much?” I asked. It was $33 for half-a-dozen of Bluff’s finest and we said yes, be­cause (a) Can­vas mag­a­zine was pay­ing and (b) Can­vas mag­a­zine was pay­ing. (Note to Ed: We saved $9.95 by not or­der­ing the house-baked fo­cac­cia with Num­ber 29 Wai­heke Is­land ex­tra vir­gin olive oil and whipped but­ter).

Se­ri­ously, I said yes be­cause the bon­amia news from Bluff is dev­as­tat­ing and I was wor­ried that, next sea­son, oys­ters might cost more than a house in Auck­land or an av­o­cado in June.

Also, they were ex­cel­lent value com­pared to the At­lantic scal­lops which had, ap­par­ently, been flown busi­ness class — how else to ex­plain an eye-goug­ing $27.95 for three?

Har­bour­side de­scribes it­self as a pre­mium seafood res­tau­rant. It is ideally sit­u­ated for this claim, atop the his­toric ferry build­ing over­look­ing the in­ner har­bour. Un­for­tu­nately, we couldn’t see the sea — our orig­i­nal ta­ble, on the plas­tic-sheet en­closed out­door deck was di­rectly in the path of a gap in the plas­tic sheet. It didn’t seem proper to eat a $40 main in a puffer jacket, so we de­camped in­side.

They can seat 120 in here and a busy lunchtime ser­vice cen­tred on a bustling open kitchen is prob­a­bly a lot of fun. On a win­tery Satur­day night, it was a bit like be­ing locked in a busi­ness ho­tel lobby on a long week­end. The car­pet had chevrons. The art was bratty.

At least we had oys­ters. Fat, sweet and me­tal­lic. And those scal­lops were ac­tu­ally re­ally good, thick and translu­cent, even if the ver­sion we were served looked noth­ing like the ver­sion later plated for the pho­tog­ra­pher, and the thumb­nail-sized pieces of pork hock were weirdly square for an­kle meat.

I’d fallen for my en­tree based on the on­line menu. Smoked snap­per and baby paua “soup” with squid ink crou­tons, sea­weed and pearl onions ($28.95). Who wouldn’t swipe right? But it ar­rived like a man in a tucked-in-shirt and shiny shoes. Some­times, you want a bit of stub­ble.

The Ora King Salmon main ($39.95) ap­pealed. I imag­ined oily fish, smoky leek, meaty oys­ter mush­room, ap­ple for cut-through, sam­phire and di­a­mond clams for the ocean and cray­fish essence to re­mind me this was ex­pen­sive. It was an ex­tremely hand­some dish, but I did not swoon.

James iden­ti­fied the prob­lem: “Not enough com­pe­ti­tion.” He was right. Soft, sump­tu­ous rich­ness had blurred into one dev­as­tat­ing de­scrip­tor: Nice.

Bet­ter luck with the seared ha­puku fil­let ($37.95) that socked a Mediter­ranean-in­spired punch. Rata­touille and a piquillo pep­per sauce dom­i­nated and the fish was per­fectly cooked, though we couldn’t iden­tify the promised chorizo crumb, and the deep­fried soft-shell crab gar­nish seemed re­dun­dant.

Dessert? An apri­cot bavarois with an ivory vanilla cheese­cake with pis­ta­chio ice­cream, apri­cot and rum and raisin com­pote ($16.95). De­li­cious, but I feel tired just typ­ing all those words.

We used to eat out like this all the time. Nine­teen­things-plus-sauce on a plate. But that was be­fore the av­er­age of­fice worker be­gan re­ceiv­ing 121 emails a day and “poverty” be­came a word pref­aced by “time”. Life is com­pli­cated — din­ner doesn’t have to be. Dear Har­bour­side, it’s me, not you. What I should have done was or­dered a whole-roasted fish. A 500g Hau­raki Gulf snap­per or Hawke’s Bay floun­der ($38.95), or a 1kg john dory ($64.95). I watched the cou­ple at a far away ta­ble share the lat­ter and felt jeal­ous. I should have or­dered that fish, and I should have slurped those bones with as much joy as I had slurped those pre­cious oys­ters.

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