Phone: (09) 522 6688
I admit I was sceptical. An established eatery decides to re-brand to an "oyster bar & eatery". Smacks of bandwagon. However when we arrived at Banque on Remuera Rd - now Banque Oyster Bar & Eatery - my initial impressions were all good; a well laid-out dining and bar space has full view of the raw bar, staff are smartly decked out in those cool European-style, full length aprons that have become all the rage, a deep green tiled wall glistens and the kitchen bustles in the background.
In the raw bar, on a whitewash of crushed ice, Bluffies (new-season Bluff oysters) lay like shingles on a rooftop alongside pearly white clams. My first thought was that five bucks an oyster is a bit rich (given even the French Cafe doesn't charge that) but perhaps this high-class neighbourhood doesn't notice such things. Besides, the fervour for these new season oysters always threatens to outweigh good sense.
In fact, they were worth every cent huge, full of ocean spray from Foveaux Strait and fresh like the gusts that blow down that way.
They slid down beautifully; a wee dunk in the perfectly smooth shallot vinegar could only barely improve them, they were that good. A platter of shucked diamond shell clams served in the same natural style were another tremendous offering from the raw bar fleshy, chewy, and tasting like they did in your childhood, just dug up from the sand.
The menu read "Good, honest food. Daily." and came on another fashion statement - the oversized sheet of paper. All the plates were there - small, shared, larger - but what was on them was delightfully different. Shredded duck on a pancake, steamed spanner crab, blackened salmon, hapuka with that wonderful Moroccan spice mix ras el hanout, and more.
The dishes covered a variety of cuisines and though this has the potential to annoy some who want a consistent or concentrated flavour palate across the menu, it didn't bother us as each dish made sense in its own right. I just hoped the chef had done a bit of travelling.
Seemed like he had. Duck pancakes came as a trio, shredded and served on tender pancakes with fresh crunchy spring onions and a sweet and spicy sauce. Fresh flavours, textural, laced with five spice - I was sold. Another trio, the sugar cane prawn pops, sounded gimmicky but were much more serious than that and left the flavours of Southeast Asia reverberating merrily around my mouth - grilled prawn meat combined with kaffir lime, fish sauce and lemongrass. A quick dip in the clear sweet sauce littered with slices of red chillies left its fiery heat, and relief came by sucking on the sugar cane - tremendous.
By now we were fully in the spirit of sharing our plates so when our three remaining dishes arrived we feasted on; a leg of roasted duck fell away into a vanilla parsnip puree, with soft bulbs of shallots braised in shiraz sharpening the flavour and providing a foil for any excess duck fat. Short trimmed lamb ribs slid off the bone and were made special with their flavouring of paprika, oregano and sherry. Shredded chicken was strewn generously through a salad of green papaya, crunchy golden fried shallots and a dressing zingy with ginger, citrus and palm sugar.
I was impressed with a kitchen that could do justice to such a wide range of culinary influences, honouring the origin of each dish superbly.
The floor staff ranged from the guy having his last night working there who had all but checked out, to our key waiter who was marvellous - keen, patient, informative, efficient. He even managed to convince us that desserts were worth a look.
The raspberry creme brulee reinstated my faith in a dessert that has become all too common. Banque's version comes with little freshly fried date and apple fritters to ensure it is elevated above the ordinary. But it was the honey tart that I adored even more - the pastry case was a wonderfully short crust, tender and buttery, filled with ground almonds and honey, with roasted apricots to top it off. It felt like a late-season gift from the last of the summer fruit.
At Banque Oyster Bar & Eatery they're not quite telling the truth - this isn't "good, honest food", it's great. And the oyster bar is adding much more than a mere gesture to a trend for such things - it's the real deal.
From the menu: Bluff oysters $5 each, Diamond shell clams $2 each, Sugar cane prawn pops $14, Shredded roasted duck pancake $13, Sticky lamb ribs $14, Shredded spiced chicken and papaya salad $18, Roasted duckling $31, Fries $7, Raspberry creme brulee $12, Honey tart with roasted apricot $12
Drinks: Fully licensed