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Oysters were not always a luxury item. The poor ate pickled oysters and pined for beef in Dickens' London, where Sam Weller, the canny Cockney valet to Samuel Pickwick, remarked that "poverty and oysters always seem to go together".
There is not much poverty at Oyster & Chop (and only one chop, of pork) but oysters get their own menu, of eight varieties and as many ways of serving them, including tandoor-grilled and Rockefeller. Those who do not believe, as I do, that oysters are best served as Tangaroa prepared them are well catered for.
The restaurant is the reincarnation of the Foodstore, which started up in early 2011 as an offshoot of Food TV that could have passed for a McLuhanesque spoof of it, though the food was damn good when we went.
The same cannot be said of this place. Indeed, Oyster & Chop seems to me the epitome of the gastronomic dumbing down of the Viaduct that has taken place over the past few years. Most of the restaurants there that are not expensive and average are expensive and poor and I have to assume that's dictated by customer appetite for the banal rather than restaurateurs' dumb insolence.
Certainly the prices encourage the expectation of a more salubrious experience. We found it hard to make conversation amid the ceaseless hollering of chefs who seemed to be auditioning for jobs as stockyard auctioneers. If they cannot think of a better way to organise table service than a stentorian bellow of "Table 21 on the pass!", they might contact me for suggestions.
Meanwhile, the service of overstretched staff veered between vague and absent: no salt and pepper was provided and when I asked for some a waiter said, "Of course, sir" and emigrated, I assume, because I never saw him again. (I later had to interrupt what looked like a stopwork meeting to ask one of his colleagues.)
Our entrees included excellent examples of insalata caprese and steak tartare (respectively generous and stingy) but the four-prawn prawn cocktail, swamped with galumphing gouts of Marie Rose sauce proved that retro dishes are retro for a reason. There was no faulting a 300g slab of Wakanui Scotch fillet, which was just as well, because (apart from a choice of sauce) that was the $37 dish in its entirety - at least one, if not two, sides are needed to make a meal. But other mains were unremarkable: half a duck breast (or the whole breast of a dwarf duck) on a bland risotto including Chinese sausage and a very odd treatment of a slab of hapuku in which fennel and, I think, cumin, wrestled for attention and the overcooked fish became collateral damage.
We liked desserts (I would have suggested that charging $15 for three small scoops of sorbet was taking the piss, but they were very straightfaced), but emerged thinking that this was a pretty unimaginative account of ordinary food at extraordinary prices. Perfect for the Viaduct.
Entrees $17-$23; mains $34-53; sides $8; desserts $10-$15
Verdict: Expensive and average, ideally suited for the Viaduct.