Review: The Oyster Inn, Waiheke Island

By Peter Calder

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Herald on Sunday rating: 4/5
Address: 124 Ocean View Rd, Waiheke Island
Ph: (09) 372 2222
Website: theoysterinn.co.nz

Oyster Inn - on Waiheke Island's main street of Oneroa - is so good it demands a visit. Photo / Babiche Martens
Oyster Inn - on Waiheke Island's main street of Oneroa - is so good it demands a visit. Photo / Babiche Martens

Strictly speaking, we had no right to be ordering the burrata. We'd already had one for lunch (it was that sort of Waiheke weekend). But the Professor says you cannot have too much of a good thing when the good thing is mozzarella.

Burrata - as the name suggests; it's Italian for "buttered" - is definitely an indulgence. The slightly rubbery skin bursts open on knife pressure to reveal a gooey filling of mozzarella and cream. Yep. Cream. We'd exulted in it at Casita Miro, crumbed and fried and sensational, and here it was again. What could we do but surrender?

At The Oyster Inn, the cheese in question, made from cow's milk by Massimo Lubisco at Italian Cheeses in Mt Albert, is given royal treatment: it's served on a bed of fresh new-season peas laced with mint and drizzled with really good olive oil. I had some difficulty persuading the Prof that, under the Property Relationships Act, I was entitled to half.

The newest eatery on the island occupies a large upstairs space on the high side of the main drag in Oneroa.

It was once home to a restaurant whose chef could not understand why frozen fish could not be called fresh. "It was fresh when it was frozen," he said, no matter how hard I tried to explain it to him. He did understand what "I'm not paying for it" meant. I could tell from the expression on his face.

The premises' new owners, Andrew Glenn and Jonathan Rutherfurd Best, have settled on the island after careers in London (in high-end marketing and event management respectively) and the refit oozes restraint and refinement: handsome recycled-wood furniture, contemporary artworks and witty grace notes like a country-pub fish mount above one door.

They've also taken over the other half of the upper storey, for a private dining room, boutique B&B and a high-end shop (sample work: women's silk jackets made from antique kimonos). Fabulous is the word.

Even in the absence of such potentially expensive distractions, the restaurant demands a visit. The evening we were there was only their sixth day and there were certainly stumbles - a whole-fish option delivered when a fillet had been ordered; a glass of wine forgotten; a bit of confusion over our booking - but everything was dealt with so good-naturedly and charmingly that it was quite impossible for even a grump like me to object.

Our waitress, who I suspect was not particularly experienced, was charming and personable, and I rather suspect she was taking her cue from the owners who have established a culture that is relaxed but taking care of business. The burly, towering Rutherfurd Best and the nimble, slightly impish Glenn were on patrol among the tables, and when Glenn stopped for a chat, it was plain we were talking to a man who is happy in his work.

So too is chef Christian Hossack, who, his exotic-sounding name notwithstanding, hails from Marton. He was head chef at Peter Gordon's Providores in the Marylebone High St in London - I fought back tears of nostalgia there a couple of years ago over his Sunday roast - and the menu here reflects that place's old-fashioned Kiwi tucker with an international inflection.

The bites include macaroni cheese and sliders of tarakihi and caper; minted new spuds are on the sides list; a dessert reinvents the Jelly Tip. But there's daikon radish with the pulled pork and a tempura oyster roll with wasabi mayo. They have fish bites, but they call them kibbeling - as the Dutch do.

For the record, I matched the Prof's burrata with a raviolo (one raviolo, two ravioli) filled with a mixture of minced scallop. It was the evening's only false note: the texture was spongy to the point of being rubbery and the taste was generically marine rather than specifically scallop, but the handmade pasta was perfect to the bite.

That whole snapper, with a lemon aioli (we could have had salsa verde) was terrific and the Professor much enjoyed some bruschetta (I've even taught her that the "sch" is pronounced "sk" now) with a minty broad-bean spread. It was with some anguish that I passed over the spaghetti alle vongole, which is made with Cloudy Bay diamond shell clams. It will have to wait - but not for long.


Verdict

A class act, in the kitchen and out front.

- Herald on Sunday

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