Address: Hilton Hotel, Princes Wharf
Phone: (09) 978 2020
Online: fishrestaurant.co.nz

Strictly speaking it's FISH, not Fish. Perhaps it is shouting its own praises or distinguishing itself from Fish, the upscale chippy Tony (Harbourside) Adcock had in Kingsland.

But when you sit down at FISH (hereinafter Fish), you are likely to say: "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kingsland any more", particularly if your dining companion is named Toto. On the first floor of what would be the foredeck of the Hilton if the Hilton were a ship, which it almost is, the dining room has the best view of any waterfront restaurant in Auckland, including a deck out front, which you should book for if the weather ever gets warmer.

Fish replaced White about five years ago, under the helmsmanship of Simon Gault, and his erstwhile empire the Nourish Group remains in charge: the executive chef is Gareth Stewart and head chef Fraser Shenton. The latter was not in the kitchen the night we visited, but the woman who was, Archana Kurup, is plainly up to the task of flying solo.

The places has been refurbished to great advantage. Perhaps because of the commitment to the name White, it used to have a look as cold as an operating theatre, which was great in summer but less welcoming in winter. The new colour scheme has earthier tones, though why someone didn't take a sledgehammer to that silly bar that divides the room is beyond me.

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The menu's changed, too. Despite the name, it's not all fish at Fish. The old menu had, as I remember, a single non-fish main, a steak for those still traumatised by memories of the association of fish with penance or the irrational fear of choking on a bone.

Now, only half the mains list is fishy and there's even an entree of pig's cheek, which I admit I could not resist: done up as a melt-in-the-mouth roulade and adorned with wafer-thin crackling, it was served with a spicy fermented cabbage, like kimchi, that made for a superb balance of flavours.

But for the rest, we stayed at sea. Some paua dumplings came in a delicate broth like Japanese dashi, though the flesh was distastefully pallid and oddly bland. Perhaps this is to cater to the appetites of Chinese, who like their abalone scrubbed to death, but black chewiness is the New Zealand way.

The rest, though, was impossible to fault: crayfish tail was done with a buttery sauce redolent of caper; a fat, juicy slab of skin-on tarakihi came with clams (excellent) and brussels sprouts (less so); and a dessert of Clevedon buffalo yoghurt with mandarin segments (some dried, some fresh) was a perfect finish.

Our young waiter was terribly sweet, though a restaurant of this calibre should make sure all staff are better briefed than he was - taking each question to the kitchen is a bad look. But in all, this was a superb experience in a part of town where there are not as many superb experiences as there should be.

Entrees $16-$33; mains $32-$68; sides $8; desserts $17-$18
VERDICT: Top food at top dollar.