"Slippery and sapid," said 19th-century English biologist Thomas Huxley. "Gone, like a flash of gustatory summer lightning."
He was talking about the oyster - a shellfish with the power, apparently, to turn a scientist into a poet.
Summer was supposed to be over when we hit the Rockefeller Champagne and Oyster Bar. Bluff oyster season was not. We ordered a dozen, with champagne and a glass of chablis, and that was $133. Gone, way faster than the weather.
Rockefeller is a ground floor tenant in the brick four-storey building that, more than a century ago, was head office to a number of major timber companies. Tonight, it's host to architecturally well-dressed women, men in leather pants and a major real estate agent about town. It feels like money: white tiles, warm wood, industrial ducting and a light fitting that's part chandelier, part disco ball.
Host Tim Arnold - a former guitarist with Pluto and still recognisable from the band pics - is pouring Champagne. Two Champagnes, actually, because it's hard to decide between the La Chapelle (at $19 a flute, the cheapest on offer) or the Aubry ($20). Arnold is happy to provide samples, advice and delivers a Bereche ($23) that will, he promises, "ask a few questions".
We have a few of our own. Like what does a farmed Paroa Bay oyster ($4 apiece) taste like? As it turns out, pretty good raw and quite excellent with a tempura batter and a punchy wasabi mayo.
Rockefeller sells a variety of cooked oysters in multiples of three. A beer-battered trio with a clever spray bottle of malt vinegar tripped the switch on taste buds nostalgic for fish 'n' chip Fridays circa 1972. But if I'm honest, the shellfish was overcooked inside the thicker coating.
How about Rockefeller's chips?
Well, they're ridiculous. The stated ambience is "luxury punk" and it's best personified in these $9 fries. Thrice-cooked, finished in duck fat, served with truffle aioli and Heinz ketchup, they will do irreparable damage to your arteries, but they are also, probably, the best chips in the country.
It's a menu of extremes. Osetra caviar by the gram and Korean fried chicken by the bucket ($15-$18). We had the latter - juicy and crisp. Across the table, an excellent vongole that featured clams, not the rubber bullets you sometimes get, and a seared beef tataki ($18.50) was made pretty with leaves and croutons.
The "three sheets to the wind" was a $15 hot pan of three Atlantic scallops. They're big, but they weren't juicy and I missed the rich orange roe that comes with the local version. A flaming nigiri board - blowtorched salmon topped rice, with pops of roe - is highly recommended (top tip: Banzai in Balmoral does a stupendous version of this, but you have to take your own Champagne).
We couldn't bring ourselves to order slurgers. The menu description - "bigger than a slider, smaller than a burger" - was too cute for its own good. Al Brown has this market cornered. Everyone else should stop trying or just call it like the mini burger it is.
They only do one pudding (chocolate) but we'd already decided to finish with the slippery and sapid.
The eponymous Rockefeller oysters contain "watercress, pernod, butter and other things". They weren't good.
The sludgy green topping had an unpleasant cheesy taste, magnified by the chemical-like smell of over-heated oyster shells.
It's said the original Rockefeller oysters, created in 1899 New Orleans to a recipe that's still secret, contained so much butter, they simply had to be named after the richest man of the day. At Auckland's Rockefeller, if you want rich, order the chips - the oysters are perfect raw.
Sample fare: Bluff oysters $55 a dozen; Champagne $19-$55 a glass; Denis Race chablis $15 a glass; Paroa Bay oysters $4 each; Fries $9; Pasta $11-$19.50; Crispy soft-shell crab slurger, $18 for two; Fresh fish board $39.
Our table of four spent $310.