Review: Waiheke Island Yacht Club, San Francisco

By Nici Wickes

1 comment
Address: Pier 29, Embarcadero, San Francisco
Phone: 415 956 1048
Cuisine: Modern New Zealand
Rating: 9/10

Pop-up restaurant The Waiheke Island Yacht Sailing Club at Pier 29 in San Francisco.  Photo / Babiche Martens
Pop-up restaurant The Waiheke Island Yacht Sailing Club at Pier 29 in San Francisco. Photo / Babiche Martens

Right now in San Francisco, the waterfront is alive with the buzz of sailing. Flags flutter in the stiff Bay breeze and huge sheds plastered with international team logos tower above the historic buildings of this vibrant city.

I was headed for Pier 29, right in the heart of it all. What I didn't expect to find was the smell of freshly milled macrocarpa. A wave of emotion washed over me. I didn't know that I knew what this timber smelled of, but it was undeniably the perfume of home and I welled up with a mix of homesickness and pride.

I'd arrived at Waiheke Island Yacht Club, the ambitious pop-up restaurant and bar created by restaurateur Tony Stewart, of Clooney and the Hamptons, for the duration of the challenger series and 34th America's Cup.

With its rough-sawn timber floor, bar stools topped with sheepskin and stylishly laidback leather deckchairs, it is unmistakably a slice of New Zealand on this west coast American foreshore.

Over the past few months Tony and his team have worked to reshape a disused pier building into a space that resembles a bach, a holiday house, somewhere to share good times with friends. It is 100 per cent New Zealand.

The lump in my throat grew as we walked across the dining room to the open kitchen where head chef Hayden McMillan (ex-Merediths, French Cafe and TriBeCa) and executive chef Des Harris were clearly under the cosh trying to co-ordinate a new team for their first service in a kitchen that had apparently only been completed in the early hours of the morning.

The dining room was packed. Thanks to blogs and village gossip, people had already got wind that there was a different kind of Team New Zealand in town, this one a kitchen brigade determined to bring a taste of New Zealand to the regatta.

To get us in the mood, we tucked into local sourdough bread, with all the extra tang that San Franciscans adore, with Anchor butter burned then whipped to a butterscotch-flavoured dream and cocktails with names such as Hard Case and Yeah-Nah.

Next came a gazpacho salad of heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, alive with flavour, and a Hawkes Bay venison tartare complete with glistening oyster, radish and flecks of freshly grated horseradish.

Another dish, a generous piece of Mt Cook salmon, was beautifully cooked with the flavour of the Pacific in coconut and saltiness in rocket and roe.

A pork dish was less successful for me - I like it fatty and crispy and this was expertly trimmed and poached. Californians will love it, I'm sure.

McMillan's other dishes did an equally splendid job of bringing San Fran and New Zealand together; a delicate fillet of line-caught snapper from Leigh was paired with local clams on a sensational saffron cream with hints of vanilla (Heilala, of course), scattered with cauliflower sliced so thinly they resembled the silhouettes of trees, and an eye fillet was cleverly served with a dashi gel, miso and mushrooms. With each mouthful of tender grass-fed beef you could taste our far-off land.

A vanilla parfait - a cool slab of creamy strawberry and rose-scented delight and a magical feijoa sherbet - was marvellous.

The Crunchie bar dessert, a favourite of McMillan's, however, suffered from first-night jitters and came out looking like a train wreck but tasted sensational nonetheless.

There's no doubt Stewart is taking a huge bite of this West Coast apple and the late nights and early starts to get it across the starting line must have had him questioning his decision at times.

As we left I looked at the team who have come to San Fran to do us all proud, off the water.

They looked worn out.

But I could see head chefs Hayden and Des, calmly keeping the young team motivated, from the first service delivered by WIYC, in what will be a sailing season to remember I'm sure: the year New Zealanders took over Pier 29 in San Francisco Bay. An effort like this one deserves a trophy.

NB: For those of you not going to San Francisco in the next few months, but keen to get in the sailing mood, we recommend The Oyster Inn on Waiheke Island (before the end of July) or Sails in Westhaven.

From the menu: Gazpacho salad $14, Cervena tartare $16, Mt Cook salmon $24, Free-range pork $22, Snapper $32, Eye fillet $34, Crunchie bar $16, Vanilla parfait $15

Drinks: Fully licensed - Moa beer on tap though licensing agreements prevent sale of New Zealand wines.


- NZ Herald

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