Review: Cable Bay Vineyards Restaurant, Waiheke

By Peter Calder

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Herald on Sunday Rating: 4.5/5
Address: 12 Nick Johnstone Drive, Oneroa, Waiheke Island
Ph: (09) 372 5889
Website: cablebay.co.nz

An old story goes that the guides in the Uffizi, the fabulous Renaissance gallery in Florence, would quietly remind visitors that "it is not the paintings that are on trial here".

It sounds unlikely to me: that phrase has the ring of a very English snobbery about it and the Italians aren't at all snobby about art. In any case, no one can say anything quietly in the Uffizi because of the noise of tourists bellowing into their cellphones.

But I remembered the story when I bit into the green beans at Cable Bay. The menu described them as being "with garlic and sesame", which should have alerted me that they were not simply steamed. But they lacked the al dente crunch that I was expecting; the chef intended that the beans - which were not at all mushy, and tasted delicious - should be slow-cooked.

It's a questionable choice for the menu's only cooked, green side dish, particularly on a hot summer evening, but I fancy I can hear the chef whispering in my ear "it is not the beans that are on trial here".

So that settles it: the beans were fabulous, but I rather wish there had been something crunchy and summery other than a salad. It would have made a sublime meal quite perfect in every way.

I'd been to Cable Bay before, so I had some idea what was in store: excellent food and fine service with a sensational view, which seemed just the thing to celebrate in an issue devoted to Waiheke Island's many charms. Having been repeatedly disappointed by restaurants on the island - in particular the upscale ones, which typically overcharge and underdeliver - I felt reluctant to risk the unknown. Cable Bay, a five-minute, $10 taxi ride from the ferry, was the answer.

I've rhapsodised before about the building, a work of handsome restraint by architect Charlie Nott, that gives on to an endless lawn, punctuated by Phil Price's wind-activated sculpture and with a fabulous view across the inner Gulf to Eastern Beach and, in the distance, Mt Wellington. It's a fine place for a stroll between courses, even if the sensational vista is rendered slightly Felliniesque by the glad-ragged dinner guests strolling back and forth on the green sward with wine glasses in hand and cellphones clamped to their ears.

In the large, pleasingly plain room dominated by big works by Max Gimblett and Judy Millar, we were attended to by a handsome young man of Rarotongan and Tahitian descent, who nailed perfectly the blend of friendliness and graceful performance that makes a great waiter and did full justice to the food prepared by executive chef William Thorpe and head chef Sam Clark.

And what food! Never mind those beans. The goat-cheese croquettes, like arancini without the bothersome intervention of rice, were melt-in-the-mouth marvels, and the accompaniment of a date puree and pumpkin seeds quite inspired.

I had decided on a meaty evening ("I'll have the beef and the beef," I told the waiter), which consisted of an entree of marinated beef fillet, topped with a creamy mozzarella di bufala and fat anchovies: putting three of my favourite foods in one dish made it a certain winner.

My main, a slow-grilled rib-eye, was a master-class in the technique of treating the best cuts of meat with the kind of patient reverence usually reserved for slow food: the exterior was as crisp as a good steak's but the inside was stewed to a meltingly caramelised tenderness that took me instantly back to the food I wish my mother had cooked. If I have eaten a better piece of meat than this I have forgotten it, and the carrot puree and salsa verde it came with allowed the mouthfuls to switch between winter and summer at the stroke of a fork.

The Professor's john dory might have spent a second or two too long on the heat, although it's a firm-fleshed rather than juicy fish, but any complaints evaporated at dessert time: a gingerbread mousse had the world's sternest dessert critic moaning in rapture. In short, Cable Bay is a seriously class act and a credit to the island. It may not be alone in this regard, but I look forward to hearing of a place that can stand in its company.

- Herald on Sunday

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