Address: The Strand, Tauranga
Phone: (07) 571 0520
Dining at provincial restaurants can be a hit-and-miss affair, in my experience. To book a table at a restaurant nestled under a railway line often invites trouble. Harbourside is based in the old Tauranga Yacht Club, or at least the part of it that was used for dinghy storage. The boats have moved out to a more accessible spot on the harbour and the diners have moved in.
Indications of the original purpose of the building remain, but the makeover is impressive. Huge windows take advantage of the harbour view and city lights, and there's only one train tonight. The welcome is warm and assured, and our request for a table on the deck is observed. This must be wonderful in the summer, when the screens are removed.
The menu at Harbourside is short but inventive, covering the usual bases but adding a twist. Starters include Vietnamese crispy duck stack, and veal sweetbreads; the mains offer soft-shell crab, and beef fillet with oxtail ragout. Sharon and I order an entree, but Bill and Dave have spotted the dessert menu and decide to save themselves for later.
Sharon's haloumi with poached pear and walnut salad and cinnamon lemon dressing ($18) has her wishing there was more. The dish - two slices of lightly fried cheese with a generous smear of dressing - is beautifully presented and delicious. My smoked venison with kumara wafers, chilli walnuts and pear and watercress salad ($22) has me moaning with delight. The flavours are distinct, the venison tender and the salad is fresh and crisp.
If I was moaning before, I'm wordless when the mains arrive. Chinese-style roasted duck in kombu broth with broccolini ($35) just falls off the bone. The skin is crisp, and the broth, made with kelp, is slightly spicy. It's one of the best dishes I've eaten in years. The others fare just as well, although Bill will argue he got the best meal. The pile of Szechuan-peppered, crispy soft-shell crab is accompanied by a dish of pickled vegetables, and spoons of mango and Japanese mayonnaise ($35). It looks and, from the little I'm allowed to try, tastes delicious. Crispy on the outside, moist and tender inside and all completely edible, which is the advantage of soft-shell crab.
The smoked tomatoes with Dave's blackened spice chicken ($32) infuse their flavour throughout the dish, and the chicken is moist and tender. A side dish of potato mash, ($6) which he shares with Bill, at the waitress' suggestion, helps soak up the juices. Sharon's braised pork belly with a Thai spiced herb salad, udon noodles and chilli caramel glaze ($30) lifts the ubiquitous offering above the norm, and she's well pleased.
On to dessert, for the blokes, although the good waitress knows a thing or two and brings extra spoons. Dave and Sharon tuck into a medley of icecreams ($14) while Bill half-turns away from the table, the better to hide his assiette of desserts from marauding spoons. Five-spice brulee, Frangelico affogato with espresso and vanilla icecream, and rum and fig steamed pudding with caramelised banana ($22) make up the plate. The brulee is a standout. Who would have thought that good old Chinese spice mix could bring so much to a sweet dish?
He might be in Tauranga, but head chef Graeme Woods understands the use of spices and is anything but provincial in his thinking.
Go to Harbourside - immediately.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $310 for two entrees, four mains, two desserts, wine and beer.
Wine list: A good selection of locals, with overseas guests to bolster the red department. Plenty by the glass.
Verdict: They're doing it right at Harbourside, and even an occasional train rumbling overhead can't detract from the experience.