Market Place, Viaduct
Ph: (09) 377 0125
WE SPENT: $274.50
WE THOUGHT: 15 - Good
When you're a restaurant reviewer, the world is your oyster.
Also your squid, your squab and your salted caramel gin-infused amaranth salad. Basically, if it's in season - or on trend - it has to be eaten. You can imagine how much I hate this time of year.
"Bluff oysters?" I said to my boss on a Tuesday afternoon. She was available Wednesday, Thursday, Friday - and all the days in between.
The very next lunchtime we went to Oyster & Chop because, well, probably that's obvious.
On any given day, this Viaduct restaurant claims to serve up to 10 different types of the mollusc that people either love or loathe. There is no middle ground with an oyster. There is, however, a very definite hierarchy - and the wild-grown Bluff sits right at the top. For me, it's like eye fillet versus flank. The Bluff oyster has more rigour; more power and refinement than its Pacific counterpart which is, literally, sloppier around the edges.
How to enjoy the best of all oyster worlds? Order one species raw ($32.50 for six) and one species cooked ($29 for six). Tempura-battered Te Kouma plumped up in the cooking to become little crispy cushions of decadence. I know we might as well have chucked $5 notes in the deep-fryer but, oh my, they were good. (Skip the extraordinarily oversalted aioli - you want the oysters to taste of the sea, not the condiments.)
We could, of course, see the sea. Oyster & Chop comes with harbour views and we were seated in a covered conservatory, which was lovely except for the lean. Our table was on a serious tilt and every time my uphill dining companion put her cutlery down, her fork listed portside. I wish I could say it was like eating on a boat but it was more like a slippery slope to heirloom tomato salad and balsamic on the white tablecloth.
That salad ($19) was, by contrast, perfectly pitched. Served room temperature it had just enough whipped goat's cheese to turn it into something I'd order as a lunch on its own, if I hadn't also ordered lunch.
Three of us split oysters, the tomatoes and a kingfish ceviche ($22) that had plenty of fish though little of the heat you might expect from something the menu called "ruby red tiger's milk".
Our waitperson was terrific, which you'd expect for the prices you're paying (to be honest, I'd also expect a higher standard of bathroom - Oyster & Chop's look like they've had a few hard Friday nights). He smoothly switched a wine order he couldn't deliver and then came back to say the market fish had changed, "to something much better!" Professional charm personified.
The hāpuku ($38) was cooked perfectly at the thick end (the less said about the thin end the better) but again with the salt - too, too much. There was a green sauce and a brown sauce. Depending on your artistic aesthetic, the plate had either been gorgeously Pollocked or dangerously paint-balled.
My plate, by contrast, was a bona fide picture. We're on a vegetarian bender at home and my meals that week had included a halloumi salad, beetroot falafels and a meat-free stir-fry. I looked down at three blood-red discs of rare venison, a scattering of blueberries and swooned. It tasted spectacular - I hadn't initially noticed the little blobs of truffle-oil heady mushroom puree that turned the chargrilled meat from good to sublime ($38).
My companion with the sliding cutlery had selected a crayfish and potato salad from the entree list ($31). Too often, dishes like this appear to be sops for people who don't really want to eat. This one was different. Supremely elegant, it nevertheless contained a reasonable amount of crayfish for the price and actual carbohydrates via the spud. A lunch for ladies who really do want to lunch.
Pudding? The dessert menu was probably the most interesting I've seen for some time, but the Bluff oyster season is short. If you're still hungry, could I suggest something raw and on ice?