Address: 612 Marine Parade, Days Bay
Phone: (04) 562 8882
Here in Days Bay, the stunning little half-moon beach that often smiles in the sun while the city opposite is shrouded in cloud, is one of Wellington's better-kept secrets.
Made famous by writer Katherine Mansfield in her story At The Bay, Days Bay is only a half-hour from the city by ferry or a little longer by car these days. And it houses one of the few restaurants I've encountered that defies the rule "the closer to the water the higher the price and the worse the food".
Despite a dream site within a stone's throw of the beach, at Cobar Restaurant you can dine on roasted mushroom custard with thyme dressing and angus beef so tender it melts in your mouth - and that's before you start on the braised shin accompaniment.
Which brings me to the thing I especially like about Cobar. Almost every dish, even the starters, are accompanied by a little extra tasting sensation, similar to what the French call an "amuse bouche" - a little surprise to please the mouth.
In the case of the Cobar's scallop entree the amusement is a scallop roe croquette nestled alongside the seared, in-season scallops. For my Wharekauhau lamb rump main course, it was the tube of cannelloni stuffed with braised neck of lamb. The rump itself was drizzled in a tasty sauce and perfect in every way, but the braised neck was truly marvellous. I saved each morsel to eat by itself alongside the tender cavolo nero (devilishly difficult to cook at home), crushed potato, beetroot and carrot accompaniment.
The others were getting on at least as well. Barry's prime angus beef fillet was served with a little mound of braised shin beef, both of which drew heartfelt sighs of appreciation. Mary's entree-sized mushroom custard, served with vegetables, was dreamy-light, the thyme dressing subtle and unexpected - just as she, a regular at Cobar, obviously expected. And Amelia, who had also chosen the lamb, was well pleased.
Our wines were served by a friendly-yet-professional waiter who knew every offering on the succinct but varied list. Almost all wines are served by the glass and there are plenty of exciting variations, such as the Beaumes de Venise dessert wine.
On to the dessert menu, which has around six options. We tried the rhubarb tarte tatin with rhubarb sorbet and mint crumble, which emerged with a satisfactorily crispy crust, the vanilla creme brulee, which was almost inhaled by Barry and Amelia, then relaxed over cups of fragrant red vanilla raspberry tea, made with real leaves rather than the now-ubiquitous bags.
This is the touch of excellence you get all the way through at Cobar. Almost all their fish - blue cod the evening we were there - is caught by two local Eastbourne fishermen who brave the Pencarrow coast and terrifying Cook Strait to bring the kitchen the best and freshest around. Their fine angus beef is from nearby Levin, their lamb from just over the Rimutakas on the Wairarapa plains and many of their vegetables come from a local organic gardener.
The fire burns all evening, tablecloths and napkins are thick white damask, the service is superb. Even the loos are special, with rolled towels to dry your hands and lotion to soften them afterwards.
And, while Cobar Restaurant is not cheap, it is excellent value for first-class cuisine and should bring a surge of shame to those restaurateurs', especially in Auckland, who charge outrageous prices for relatively lacklustre food and wine we can buy at the supermarket for half the price.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $187.50 for one entree, three main courses, vegetables, four desserts, one coffee, three teas and three glasses of Rimu Grove Riesling.
Wine list: Carefully thought-out, well priced and mainly local with a few nice surprises.
Verdict: Exciting and brilliantly cooked, locally sourced food at one of the prettiest beaches in Wellington. Well worth the drive.