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Herald on Sunday rating: 2/5
Address: North Wharf, Wynyard Quarter
Phone: (09) 379 7576
You. Must. Be. Joking. If this is what we are offering diners in a new harbourside development on the eve of the biggest sporting and tourist event since the 1990 Commonwealth Games, we might as well put up a sign at the airport saying "Country Closed Owing To Lack of Interest".
I had delayed visiting the new Wynyard Quarter, behind the Auckland Fish Market, because I got sniffy when I read that they had set the ticket price for the tram that runs around in circles down there at $10 a head. That's $40 or $50 a family. For a 1.5km tram ride.
But for the most part, the North Wharf, just west of the Viaduct Events Centre, looks good even if it is plainly the first stage of a larger work in progress. Old working boats bob in the water and there is a smell of salt and rust and old rope. The wharf rail lines, filled in so as to make for safer walking, create a handsome underfoot tracery and give a nice sense of the area's previous life. A stack of shipping containers has a large TV screen at the top and an ATM at the bottom.
I had decided that Jack Tar, which describes itself as a gastropub (now there's a flash of originality, don't you think?) might offer the best eating. But that was a fool's errand. The kitchen, which was "getting ready for dinner", would open at 6, I was told, although they could do us some pizza bread.
I felt an urgent need to check the date and confirm I was in the 21st century. It was 4.30pm on a sunny Sunday in a crowded dining precinct 12 days before the Rugby World Cup and this gastropub was doing the pub bit but not the gastro bit.
Lest the point be obscure, I'll spell it out: 4.30pm is not an unreasonable time to want dinner, particularly if you have plans for the evening, such as watching a football game. "Getting ready for dinner" and staying ready for anything is what a restaurant in a place like this should do all day.
We finished up at Pescado, at the western end of the concourse. Here they serve tapas, which they describe as "a perfect way to enjoy the company of friends and music, while the main dish is prepared" but they don't serve main dishes, so I don't know what that's about.
Anyway the only good thing about Pescado was our waiter, a personable Brazilian called Johnson, who was both laid-back and efficient, a good combination in a waiter. The food, though, varied from ordinary to appalling.
A dish of scallops tantalisingly described as "grilled and served in chilli and lime zest" were flabby and grey. I suspect they had been frozen and I am sure they were more stewed than grilled. They exuded an aroma that encouraged me to expect that I would be seeing them again later that evening but mercifully I was wrong about that.
If the prawns had in fact been "sautéed in fresh garlic and herbs" they had managed to shrug off all traces of the experience, in the process assuming the consistency of, though not quite as much flavour as, disposable earplugs.
The kitchen had run out of the ingredients for the prawn mornay cigarillos (stuff like cheese, prawns and filo pastry) which suggested a lack of foresight and of willingness to nip over to New World. But then they had run out of Stella on tap as well, so at least the incompetence was comprehensive.
The fact that the same unremarkable spicy tomato sauce was used for the patatas bravas, the albondigas and the (nicely chewy) beef kebabs seemed an entirely fitting failure of imagination.
This place doesn't so much fail Tapas 101 as get lost on the way to the exam room. And as a precinct, North Wharf is a disgrace. If it was a rugby team it wouldn't even make it to the quarter-finals.
Need to know
$ = $20-$40; $$ = 40-60; $$$ = $60+.
(Price guide reflects three courses for one person without drinks.)
On the strength of its Takapuna performance, Marvel Grill (09) 377 8848 has to be a good bet. But this is so far from being a dining precinct it makes me want to weep. Head to the Viaduct.