Phone: (09) 307 0486
Rating out of 10: Food: 7, Service: 7, Value: 8, Ambience: 9
There can be little argument that customers at Harbourside enjoy one of the best settings in Auckland. You are presented with the constant changes of the port, spinnakers red in the sunset, ferries hustling about and often the monumental bulk of a cruise ship. On our most recent visit you could, if bored, even catch the movie on the giant screen of the floating holiday camp moored nearby and then watch it daintily manoeuvre out of its parking space.
It's a matchless venue for showing off the city to visitors and not surprising that a group led by the owners of Botswana Butchery, the eatery downstairs in the Ferry Building, bought Harbourside late last year to end the run of Tony Adcock and his team who have operated it since 1988.
At the moment it is still under the transitional direction of Adcock's team and is running as efficiently as ever. It's a production line operation, and that's not meant as a criticism. This is a Rolls Royce production line: sound, dependable food consistently turns up, displaying great ingredients and competent cooking.
Unsurprisingly for a restaurant that describes itself as a "seafood bar and grill" the menu is dominated by fish and we started with two marine courses. We sometimes play the game of "if you could only have one New Zealand dish, what would it be?" and here the two favourites were on hand.
There's not much better than a fresh Bluff oyster, served on the half shell, glistening and bursting with that flavour that can, for once, be accurately described as unique. But then there were the seared Northland scallops. These weren't the biggest specimens but they did produce that wonderful combination of the tender shellfish with a caramelised edge, set off here by a little square of pork belly.
Where to go from this promising beginning? Staying with the fish produced an expertly piece of grilled kingfish, which in other places can sometimes be overdone and dried out, but here was moist and succulent and complemented with confit tomatoes and ratatouille, fragrant with basil.
Almost perversely I went for the duck. This was standard fare with a confit leg and roast breast, again professionally prepared with the richness of the duck balanced by a sharp little citrus and fennel salad. We bulked out the meal, although it wasn't really necessary, with potatoes tastily done in duck fat and green beans enlivened with a hint of mint and a sprinkle of sauteed shallots.
The one disappointment of the evening arrived with the leaden sponge of the plum roulade and an accompanying pistachio icecream that lacked punch. But the berry tart with vanilla custard, remembered with enthusiasm from our last visit, was again excellent, a pleasing blend of flavours and textures.
This satisfying food was served with well-oiled efficiency, with the staff well-schooled in getting customers quickly and comfortably settled and offering unsolicited apologies for a couple of later delays so small we had hardly noticed as we sat relishing the view.
Over the years I have tended to think of Harbourside as a lunch venue but this visit displayed its attractions as a dinner venue too. The new owners may have other ideas for the place but the cliche of "if it ain't broke, why fix it?" crossed my mind.
Our meal: $260 for two first courses, two mains, two desserts and five glasses of wine.
Wine list: A terrific list, strong on New Zealand wines with plenty of other choices and good by the glass.
Verdict: A perfect place to show off the City of Sails (and why did the council want to get away from that great label?)