Fish Kitchen, Devonport: 16.5 - Great. Reviewer Kim Knight finds fresh fish, sea breezes and a pudding that reads like your childhood at a Devonport newbie.
Downtown Auckland is a disaster and anyone who thinks otherwise should try walking from the Viaduct to the Ferry Terminal in a pair of high heels.
Drivers have been complaining about the Quay St works for months but at least they're sitting down. On foot, you must contend with uneven asphalt, temporary boardwalks and a path too narrow to accommodate throngs of cruise ship passengers who haven't realised that if it's Thursday they're in New Zealand and should be keeping left.
The irony? We were walking because we had planned to drive west for pasta but, you know … TRAFFIC. Plan B: put all of that behind us. Literally.
"It's like going on a little holiday," said Deb, as we finally boarded the ferry and putted across the harbour. I feared her optimism was misplaced (last time I asked what the fish of the day was in Devonport the reply was "teriyaki") but am happy to report Fish Kitchen knows its kai moana. Crucially, the flavours were worth the commute.
Grab an end table for views of the Hauraki Gulf or take a seat on the village-facing deck. Fish Kitchen's decor is from the School of Cafe Modern - obligatory neon sign, quirky photographic art and an open kitchen. Bright, breezy and very appealing until you get to the tattered and grubby paper menus. Someone needs to get on the photocopier, stat.
This is a small complaint in the scheme of an extremely pleasant evening. Technically, we didn't even make landfall to eat at Fish Kitchen, so it felt appropriate (not counting side dishes) that 23 of the 30 offerings were pescatarian. Squid? Snapper wings? Fried wonton with grilled ling and corn salsa? I was a pig in briny muck.
There were no less than four fresh fish of the day, served battered with chips or grilled with a fennel, cos, orange and radish salad. Snapper and gurnard needed no explanation but our waitperson was a walking Wiki page of fishy knowledge and she really sold the lesser-sold gem and mahi-mahi. She also offered an ice bucket for our wine, cleared plates with speedy aplomb and delivered exactly the right amount of banter (friendly, but not actual new best friend).
Fish Kitchen makes an odd distinction between "raw" and "crudo" (which translates as "raw") but the latter was trevally, which I can never resist. It didn't have the silken fresh-off-the-kayak bite that I'm used to at home but I really enjoyed the citrussy ponzu dressing treatment. The dish included edamame beans, wakame seaweed and radish - top marks for textural appeal alone ($18).
"Mussels and cockles" turned out to be just the former but they lolled plump and appealing in a warm bath of tomato, chorizo and soft white beans ($16). Get some extra bread, upgrade to the full kilo serve and call this the complete, trans-seasonal dinner package - light enough for summer, soupy enough for winter.
I recently read a critique of chronological restaurant reviews. Mix it up, demanded the writer. Point taken. I'm skipping straight to pudding in case you're too full to finish my writing.
An Anzac biscuit icecream sandwich ($10) was a fairground attraction of a dessert. A whimsical carnival of warm, chewy biscuit, gigantic scoops of icecream, pops of freeze-dried berries and I don't want to spoil the surprise but there were fish and THEY WERE CHOCOLATE. Phone a friend, because this is way too big for one person. Also, if you order the pineapple fritter please report back because I, for one, am curious. How clever is this dessert list? Fish Kitchen is the kind of place you want to find in every Auckland beachside suburb. The ocean's freshest, combined with an actual sea breeze and a pudding that nostalgically invokes your childhood. Magic.
Obviously we had fish. Deb's grilled gurnard ($28 with a bucket of salad) was delicate and lemon-buttery; my mahi-mahi ($31) was a robust skin-on fillet with a punchy yoghurt dressing and more couscous than I could eat. Both were perfectly cooked, though we did add more salt and I might not have picked the "Cajun" flavour I'd been promised if I hadn't read the menu.
Earlier, we'd shared a gorgeous dish of pickled octopus ($19); a kind of Antipodean homage to the classic pulpo gallego - potatoes, but also crunchy fennel, radish, pureed capsicum and a creamy dressing. At Fish Kitchen, more was definitely moreish.
1 Queens Parade, Devonport
Ph: (09) 445 1777
WE SPENT: $192 for two
WE THOUGHT: 16.5 - Great
Sip the list
That you can get the lovely Mount Edward Blanc, rosé and pinot noir "on tap" in three different serving sizes at Fish Kitchen, is a great thing. I love a carafe. Bring the carafes back, I reckon, a bit of retro-cool at the table. The other thing I love about this list is that every wine on offer is from New Zealand. That's right. What bloody champions. From a banging bubbles selection featuring fizz from Hunter's, Nautilus, Koyama, Kumeu River and Quartz Reef, to rosé, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot gris, riesling and even albarino and chenin blanc from the likes of Mahi, Seresin, Escarpment, Te Mata, Harakeke, Smith & Sheth, Amisfield and Fromm, it's an excellent selection. For red wine lovers who like to shake, rattle and roll, they can get on the good foot with Gibbston Valley and Craggy range pinot noir and Esk Valley syrah. However, if merlot is more your thing, then snuggle into the Stone Paddock or Puriri Hills. Seventeen out of their 26 wines are also available by the glass, which fills me with much joy and gladness.