150 Quay St, Auckland
Ph: (09) 365 2690
"Do you think the waiter has recognised you?" my friend asked. The question was prompted by the three apologies. When he brought it; as I ate it; and when he cleared away; the waiter said how much he regretted that the turbot had bones in it.
He had said it would come as two big fillets, so a correction was in order, but hardly an apology. And certainly not three.
If he had identified me, he was doing better than the front-of-house folks. They had no record of my lunchtime booking (no problem; a table was available anyway), and seemed to take the view that the omission was my fault.
"These things happen," the maitre d' said (I thought he was going to pat my hand). "People sometimes book for another place on the waterfront."
Now it may be that, intending to book a table at The Crew Club, I had reserved the Presidential Suite at the Hilton by mistake. But I think restaurant staff should operate on the principle that the customer is always right, whether or not the customer is a restaurant reviewer.
The latest arrival on the Viaduct replaces The Waterfront Cafe and Bar, which I never visited, though to judge by some online photographs of the food, I am surprised no one took legal action to stop them butchering the country's tourist reputation.
The new incarnation has ditched the tacky neon for an immaculate Jasmax fitout (isn't it nice that decent designers and architects are being invited into new premises?). A large open room featuring lots of pale wood gives on to a deck overlooking the water, where old style yachts bob at their berths. The feel is very springtime, though it would doubtless be cheering in the depths of winter.
Of the food, it is difficult to be unstintingly enthusiastic. As a general observation, it seems to me that a certain summery sameness has crept into menus of late: among others, Ostro, Odettes and this place might all be branches of one another and Auckland dining is crying out for some bold signature style.
The Crew Club's chef, Nick Haszard, a veteran of dine by Peter Gordon, has cred to burn, but some dishes on the bewilderingly large menu just didn't cut the mustard.
Crayfish and crab were happily married with a citrus mayo in tiny rolls as delicate as choux pastry; a carpaccio of seared kingfish was just the business. But courgette and mint fritters were a disappointment. They had a nice fennel kick and the harissa yoghurt dip was great, but the batter was still slimy in the middle, I suspect because the grated zucchini had not been adequately squeezed.
The other failure was a dish of squid: the serving of some thick bits as "steak" was inspired, but the garlic crumb on the tentacles had collapsed into a fatty algal mess. There were nice flavours of tahini and mint behind it all, but the textural experience was really quite unpleasant. Chivalry demanded I let my friend have half that turbot (aka righteye flounder), which was superb: its skin blackened, the meaty flesh moist and flavoursome, it sat amid a medley of summer vegetables with a whiff of lime. And we shared a dessert of meyer lemon, baked whole, scooped out and filled with meringue, which was tasty enough, but would have worked better warm, I fancy. It's a fab spot and will surely be jumping over summer, but the kitchen has yet to start humming. A much smaller menu would be a good start.
Bites: $9 (olives)-$30 (crayfish rolls); salads $19-$24.50; mains $23-$35; desserts $11-$14.
Verdict: Room to improve.
Mmmm ... Malbec
If the snowy peaks of the Andes Mountains on the labels of these wines aren't enough of a lure, the flavours will be. This thrilling threesome put the capital "v" in value, as in wines that leave a good taste in the mouth.
• 2014 Trapiche Argentina Vineyards Malbec $12.99-$13.99
Dark spicy flavours and powerful fruity oomph make this a stand out.
• 2013 Trapiche Argentina Oak Cask Malbec $15.99-$16.99
This powerful oak-aged malbec takes taste to the next level with intense spicy aromas and dark fleshy black fruit, which lingers in the mouth and the mind long after the last sip.
• 2012 Trapiche Argentina Broquel Malbec $19.99-$21.99
This deep purple, full-bodied malbec has so much spicy intensity and complexity that it can age positively for another five years, if you have the willpower.
The Black Seeds are the headline act at the 20th annual Marlborough Wine & Food Festival next Valentine's Day, Saturday, February 14. Bookings essential at ticketek.co.nz or marlboroughwinefestival.co.nz
- Joelle Thomson, joellethomson.com