There was a time when Hammerheads had something of a reputation for being one of those restaurants that trade rather too heavily on their spectacular setting. And as we looked back to the city in the glorious evening light, there was no challenging the appeal of its position.
But after its recent refit, we found the new establishment would be worth a visit even if it were up a back street. It produces a winning combination of excellent imaginative food, if occasionally guilty of gilding the lily, and outstanding service and deserves the full house it was enjoying on our visit.
The emphasis is, of course, on seafood and it has a more than representative selection. The oysters were, as usual, tempting but there's not much room with oysters to test expertise, short of their being opened.
The menu did show the chef was trying hard with the scallops coming with garlic milk, black quinoa, toasted sunflower, slow-cooked pepper, pomegranate burnt butter gel and I may have missed something. I prefer my scallops less adorned and these were those Arctic specimens - good, I admit, but I am loyal to the homegrown variety.
The menu also offers some "sous vide" items and I am dubious about the benefits of this oven bag treatment for fish. Perhaps I should have put it to the test but I opted instead for the lime-cured Akaroa salmon, which was good although I thought the figs and other adornments a little strongly flavoured for the delicacy of the main ingredient.
The seared yellowfin was terrific with the cauliflower purée, asparagus and a delightful little tempura scampi providing a nice foil for quality fish.
The accompaniments for the grilled game fish of fennel and snow pea salad, black olive jelly, truffle muscatel dressing and prawn and pickled garlic ceviche sounded exotic enough to be worth exploring but the fish itself was tuna and I had hoped for something different.
So it seemed a reasonable idea to see how they did dishes away from the seafood staples and I did not regret my choice of the Hawkes Bay lamb rump, a fine piece of meat expertly done to a pink moistness and with a novel and rich braised shoulder and shiitake mushroom croquette. Hazelnuts added another smart touch.
We went with the seafood for our other well received main course, the roast snapper with a generous serving of a nice sharp lemon gnocchi, caper berries and globe artichokes.
The dessert listing posed a problem. Readers may be familiar with "namelaka" but I hadn't a clue what it was, nor did our charming waiter. But he raced away and returned with a complete breakdown of every element in the dish, which came with more adornments than the May Queen. Namelaka is, it seems, a Japanese term for creamy texture and described the white chocolate concoction, nestled amid the compressed strawberries, gingerbread sponge, yoghurt gel and the rest. It was all quite entertaining, although I think our other choice of the soft valrhona manjari ganache, rich in flavour, was a better bet.
We enjoyed the food and were particularly impressed with the service which was slick without being impersonal. All the staff patrolled with a constant eye on the customers, anticipating their needs. There was no hanging around but we never felt rushed and there was none of that irritating waiting for the bill so common when the staff think their duties are done by serving the food.
This all comes at a price but seafood restaurants are never cheap and the rebirth of Hammerheads perhaps shows an old dog can learn new tricks - clever ones, too.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $198.50 for two first courses, two mains, two desserts and four glasses of wine.
Wine list: A fairly representative list dominated by New Zealand wines, and a respectable range by the glass. We started with Clos Henri Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009. followed by a Black Estate Waipara Riesling 2010 and Trinity Hill Hawkes Bay Syrah.
Verdict: Another to add to the growing list of Auckland's top-tier restaurants with a full package of setting, food and great service.
The white chocolate namelaka proved an entertaining dessert. Picture / Natalie Slade