I have spent more of the Professor's money than I really should have at the Auckland Fish Market. Whenever my Vespa gets within a whiff of the place its handlebars seem to take on a life of their own.
But the Professor doesn't mind because I bring home pricy slabs of tuna or salmon or pottles of glistening Bluff oysters and turn the first two into salade nicoise and salmon kebabs. The oysters I eat as they are, although if she asks nicely I let her have half.
The nearby chandleries and marine supply shops do not exactly suggest that you're entering a dining precinct. My only eating experience in that neck of the woods had been at a place named, with more candour than marketing savvy, Live Fish - a Hong Kong-style place where you choose your dinner from a tank and they bring it to you in a bucket to make sure they have netted the right one.
The Fish Market is round the back of the North Wharf and part of the Wynyard Quarter. An August revamp sharpened it up nicely: a large courtyard is covered by a huge perspex roof, providing a large open space in which kids can run around and make a racket without getting into trouble, although the hard surfaces made the music from an acoustic duo louder than I suspect it was intended to.
The southern side is taken up by Big Picture Wines, where they provide an interactive tour of New Zealand vineyards and wine-tasting classes as well as a watering hole. But we had our eyes on the Market Seafood Brasserie.
I'm not sure whether the IT geek who made the website's address bar show the word "brassiere" is illiterate or mischievous, but either way the word "brasserie" may be a bit high-flown for this place. It really is more like a glorified fish-and-chip joint. That's no criticism: I just wouldn't like you to expect a waiter in an ankle-length apron with a corkscrew and an attitude. What you get instead is people who bring to your table food that you order from the bar.
At a long counter, whose rough-hewn wood front puts you in mind of a cabana on a tropical beach, you can order a seafood barbecue ($23 for a mixed grill) which seemed a popular Friday-evening option, but there's an a la carte menu of sorts.
You choose your fish from a list of four or five, your cooking method (ditto) and a single side dish, for a family-friendly price between $15 and $18. Fortunately I had brought a notebook in which to jot down the choices of the Prof and her mate before heading inside to order.
I lashed out by ordering a dozen oysters which arrived very quickly and it was easy to see why. The unglistening surfaces made it plain they had not been shucked to order, which I thought was pretty poor for an eatery only metres from a fish market, but they were big and tasted good.
Our trio chose a variety of what was on offer: grilled tarakihi, pan-fried moonfish and a spaghetti (actually a pappardelle) marinara with prawns, squid and chunks of snapper. The Professor thought the last of these options rather routine but it did cost $17.50 including a side dish and, although I would not have dreamed of telling her so, I think she was being a bit fussy.
Her mate and I were perfectly happy with our fish dishes which came with chips (very crisp and tasty) and kumara chips (distressingly soggy) and large enough piles of proprietary salad to make us feel very virtuous.
Afterwards we wandered through the expanded Wynyard Quarter where walls are decorated with snatches of New Zealand writing and groups of Friday night revellers were spreading rugs on the grass to watch an outdoor movie. It was enough to make me forget the horrible first experience I had at North Wharf and resolve to return soon.
Need to know
$ = $20-$40; $$ = 40-60; $$$ = $60+.
(Price guide reflects three courses for one person without drinks.)
You can get fish and chips at Oceanz next door, but only until 6pm weeknights (6.30 weekends). Kermadec is the pick of seafood fine-dining at the Viaduct.