Peter Calder: Oyster bar lacks lustre

By Peter Calder

Banque Oyster Bar and Eatery
Address: 311 Remuera Rd. Remuera
Stars: 3/5
The kingfish at Banque was a lovely texture but the room's lack of ambience inhibited enjoyment of it. Photo / Michael Craig
The kingfish at Banque was a lovely texture but the room's lack of ambience inhibited enjoyment of it. Photo / Michael Craig

As far as I can deduce, Banque has no website. I struggle to understand this. I suppose it is better than having a website that is still "coming soon" after a place has been open six months or one that features an out-of-date menu. But, if the menu is online, I could not find it.

To me, such coyness smacks of complacency, but perhaps Banque can afford to be complacent. There isn't much competition for the diner's dollar in that part of Remmers and I suspect it's the default dining room for much of the neighbourhood when mother, tired out from listening to Charlotte's violin practice, can't be bothered cooking.

Sorry, I'm being bitchy, I know. Remuera does that to me. I can't drive past the $15,000-a-year King's School without thinking of the lawyer's wife who told me she sent her sons there because "we do think it's important the kids go to the local school".

Banque owner Dominique Parat, who is behind GPK and Mekong Baby, reopened it in February having rebranded it as an oyster bar and eatery.

This was presumably in response to the success of Al Brown's Depot, which had seized Auckland dining by the lapels and given it a bloody good shake about 18 months earlier.

If you've eaten at Depot or, better still, at one of those chaotic and merry seafood revels that New Yorkers call an oyster bar, you may be disappointed at Banque: there is nothing much wrong with the food, which answers to its billing as "good and honest", but the experience is so staid and joyless that it made me want to spill my drink and start yodelling just to liven the place up a bit.

If I had done so, it might have electrified the waitstaff into some action. Their style, most kindly described as languid, was to show us to a seat and then ignore us for several minutes, even though there was only one other table occupied. When in attendance, they had all the exuberance of altar boys at mass, though they were punctilious about plying us with wine; I suspect they regarded it as somewhat unsporting that I had only one glass.

I am not even sure that Banque deserves the appellation of oyster bar. On the current menu, there are two kinds of oyster and some diamond shell clams (with a rather sniffy note that the minimum order is three). There is also sashimi-style salmon and kingfish. Perhaps the selection was more extensive when it opened and obviously supply is seasonal, but to pin a rebranding on such a slim raw-bar selection (probably 25 restaurants around town are offering as much or more) is getting ahead of yourself.

The business end of the menu consists of an all-beef grill section and half a dozen pizzas, of which I offer no report other than to say that GPK has, in my experience, distinguished itself at both genres and would doubtless do so again. Instead, we tried a shellfish selection (with delicate-pink shallot vinegar) and the kingfish (a subtle, even bland, taste, but a wonderful texture that worked well with the zing of pomegranate seeds and a lime-tinged avocado mousse).

This we followed with pancakes stuffed with shredded roast duck, like the second course of a traditional Peking duck feast, in which the assembly had already been done for us. They were very well made, too, although the "peking sauce" was, I suspect, hoisin from a bottle.

More impressive was a salad in which goat cheese, dusted with hay ash, came with baby carrots, asparagus and fresh herbs; the display, spread across a big plate, was attractive and the sticky, tangy dressing excellent.

Braised beef cheek on a sweet and slightly gingery carrot puree topped with a fat tempura oyster, was rich and tasty and suited the unseasonably cool evening, though I suspect it will be off the menu soon.

Less successful was a rather characterless dish of "open ravioli", which included undercooked and woody stems of asparagus. Only liberal application of black pepper made it palatable.

We passed on dessert (the list is standard) and headed back to the Corolla, feeling somewhat relieved that it had not been towed away for lowering the tone of the neighbourhood. Banque has its merits, but Remuera still isn't going to be a dining destination any time soon.

Verdict: Steady but staid

- Herald on Sunday

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