Address: 12 Jellicoe St, North Wharf, Wynyard Quarter
Phone: (09) 969 6986
Rating out of 10: Food: 7, Service: 6, Value: 6, Ambience: 8

Every table at Miss Clawdy gets complimentary popcorn. A small bowl of sweet, salty, spicy, lick-your-fingers-clean deliciousness.

"What's in this?" I asked the waiter. "I wouldn't know," he replied. I raised an eyebrow and pursed my lips. "Lots of stuff," he elaborated. "Spices."

Maybe the popcorn is the chef's secret recipe. Maybe it comes from a packet at the supermarket. I wouldn't know, because the waiter couldn't be bothered engaging with me about the food that was being served in the establishment that was paying his wages.

Good service sells food. Bad service means the food has to work much, much harder.


We started with the $7.50-a-piece tacos. Steph had been searching for a good one since Mexico (the country, not the restaurant empire) and Miss Clawdy's fish version, with its fresh hit of tomato and onion "pico de gallo" got a big tick. My shredded, slightly pickled beetroot and really juicy pulled-beef brisket in a soft tortilla was never going to be an elegant eat, but if you're not wearing a white shirt, this is highly recommended.

North Wharf is part of the redeveloped Wynyard Quarter, just along from the Fish Markets. In the weekends, it's packed with walkers and families. Gourmands eat crayfish meatballs at Baduzzi, tourists buy beer and pizza at the pleasant but ubiquitous waterfront bars, and Miss Clawdy scoops up the 30-somethings. It bills itself as a "soul food haven". The interior is really lovely - warm lighting and eclectic decor - and its $17 fried chicken has rightly gained a dedicated following. Think hot and spicy KFC, with more crisp and less grease. It was one of the three "plates" we ordered, and it was definitely more successful than the nice, but not special, pork belly. I long for the day when my taste buds mature enough to resist the words "pork" and "belly" in the same sentence. In the meantime, I am hostage to greedy pricing strategies - $29.50 for three cubes of meat on top of approximately 50 green peas is, frankly, extortion.

When in a Southern American restaurant, get the gumbo. In contrast to the pork, the $24.50 serve was enormous. It was also tasty. I lost the crab, but prawns, chicken and smoky sausage made for a moreish savouriness. The capsicum part of Creole cuisine's "holy trinity" (God is the onion, right?) was well-represented, and a cornbread crumble topping gave crunch. Handily, that crunch dissolved into a thickener for a fairly sloppy dish that should have automatically come with the spoons we had to ask for.

We probably could have used some guidance on the sides, too. Chargrilled kumara was smoky on the outside and creamy in the middle, but not a great sop for the gumbo. Cornbread and chilli oil ($9.50) next time, I think.

And on to dessert. Rich chocolate and orange pave ($13); couch cushion-shaped vanilla beignets that were made better with spare icecream from the pave plate, and my "cookie sandwich" - two biscuits, too heavy on the rising agent, encompassing a scoop of icecream and plonked, inexplicably, on a flat wooden board. My $8 also got me a cream-bottle-sized serving of milk, with a straw. I wasn't sure it would go with my wine - we had, variously, Two Rivers riesling, Astrolabe pinot gris and an Alamos malbec by the glass - and so I left it, untouched.

"Are you going to drink that milk?" the waitress demanded, as she cleared our plates. And so the evening ended as it had begun, with an eyebrow raised and my lips pursed.

Sample fare: Calamari or popcorn shrimp po' boys, $12 each; prawn, chicken and andouille sausage jambalaya, $26; braised beef short rib with bourbon barbecue sauce, $32.50; garden salad with candied pecans and pumpkin seeds, $15.50; Cajun hush-puppies (with shrimp and okra), $11.
We spent: $213.50 for three.