Shore stars

Find clever things with skewers at this gas­tro pub-meets-bistro

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

Ionce asked a for­mer col­league to ex­plain ex­actly how far across the har­bour bridge he lived.

He nar­rowed his eyes and said (a lit­tle de­fen­sively, I thought): “The North Shore is not an­other coun­try.”

But it might as well be, right? On any given week­night, any given on-ramp is so slow you should prob­a­bly pack snacks.

It was just af­ter 1pm on a Satur­day when we whizzed across the bridge. Lit­tle yachts bobbed in the wa­ter, the sun was do­ing that thing where it flares un­der thun­der clouds and North­cote Point was lit like a movie star.

Cel­lu­loid celebrity was, in fact, not far away. Clarence Rd Eatery is in the same his­toric build­ing as the Bridge­way Cin­ema — hold my Jaf­fas, I’m hav­ing duck-fat fries with parme­san and aioli.

The lunch menu is also the din­ner menu. I imag­ine the restau­rant is very pretty at night with its enor­mous deco lamp fix­tures, but I also loved the day­time am­bi­ence. Satiny-brick walls, a tonne of nat­u­ral day­light and port­hole-framed pho­to­graphic close-ups of na­ture re­mind you how close you are to the mighty Waitem­ata. Cru­cially, the chairs were very com­fort­able.

We set­tled in and con­tem­plated the clever thing they do here with sal­ads and skewers. Or­der your base (Cae­sar, ku­mara and quinoa, etc) and em­bel­lish it with a spike (or spikes) of pro­tein — prawns, freerange chicken, etc. Ladies who lunch and back­stab must be in heaven.

We shared an heir­loom and cherry tomato salad with pars­ley pesto ($16 mi­nus the skewer) but I think we were about a month too late. The toma­toes were juicy but sharp, and that ricotta didn’t stand a chance. Come back in Fe­bru­ary, I reckon, for lazy, lus­cious fruit that won’t bat­tle its soft, bland com­pan­ions.

Starters in­clude a very fine duck, pork and chicken ter­rine. It was cut thick and meaty and loaded with pis­ta­chio ($18). An ac­com­pa­ny­ing plum chut­ney — not too sweet, a lit­tle bit cin­na­mony — was ex­cel­lent. It needed more than one slice of bread to fully con­vince me of its “shar­ing dish” sta­tus, but it’s pos­si­ble I’m just greedy.

There was fur­ther proof of this hy­poth­e­sis at the counter. “Big meal,” said the woman be­hind the till. I shrugged, in the non-com­mit­tal man­ner of some­one who is not ac­tu­ally pay­ing for their own meal. “No din­ner,” she said sternly.

I guess that ex­plains why we were never of­fered a dessert menu. Or a re­fill on our wa­ter glasses. If I lived on the Shore, Clarence Rd would be a fine din­nerand-a-movie date night, but I’m less in­clined to make a spe­cial trip.

The main dishes are gas­tro pub meets bistro stan­dards — $22 fish and chips; a $23 burger; the mar­ket fish that is al­ways pan-fried snap­per and a high chance there were will be pea ten­drils on ev­ery­thing.

Burnt corn risotto ($25) with chipo­tle but­ter and parme­san cheese sounded good. Verdict? A hot bath and a milo be­fore bed; a flan­nel shirt and Ugg boots on the couch. In short, a big bowl of cosy that I never wanted to climb out of. If I’m hon­est, I couldn’t re­ally taste the chipo­tle and the corn was more lightly scorched than caramel-burnt, but the burst of those ker­nels against the sump­tu­ous cheesi­ness of the rice was suc­cour for the soul. You know those days when no­body loves you? This risotto loves you.

Un­for­tu­nately, that’s where the fairy tale ends. James had been wooed by the spe­cial — a braised beef short rib with smoked cheese mash, pick­led onions and jus ($22).

Brais­ing is (usu­ally) where heat, pa­tience and a lit­tle liq­uid turn the ined­i­ble ed­i­ble. Tough fi­bres fall apart, the col­la­gen melts and the rib bone comes away, clean of sur­round­ing flesh.

My best guess is that per­haps this lunchtime spe­cial was ac­tu­ally in­tended for the din­ner rush. The meat was more seared than braised. It was served par­tially sliced to re­veal a still-pink in­te­rior that matched a bone that was still tacky with con­nec­tive tis­sue.

Maybe the chef was re­ly­ing on pa­trons tak­ing longer to get across the bridge?

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