The small but perfectly delicious K Rd wine bar Clay impresses reviewer Kim Knight from charcuterie start to citrus finish.
Auckland was dripping grapefruit. Orange and yellow orbs festooned the suburbs and plopped on to driveways like so many stray footballs.
But it was not 1976. Nobody wanted half a grapefruit for breakfast and a shrimp cocktail for dinner. It was not 1946. There was no time for making marmalade. What to do with this citrus surplus? In the Epoch of the Outsource, the best thing to do with a grapefruit is to get someone else to do it.
Possibly, by the time you read this review, the little slice of genius that was Clay's grapefruit tart will have been swapped for something equally seasonal but in late July we swooned. I loved it so much, I ate two slices ($12 each) in as many weeks. It comes with an off-to-one-side quenelle of creme fraiche that, like a light jacket at a barbecue, you probably won't need. This is a tart that stands unadorned scrutiny. Short, crisp pastry. Rich, smooth filling. Sweet-bitter in that grown-up way you've come to appreciate silverbeet or a well-balanced negroni.
It was fortunate I liked it, because there was nothing else for pudding. Clay operates an A5-sized menu that changes often - or completely, depending what Covid-19 alert level Auckland is operating on. On any given normal week: a tart, a pizza, a pasta, some salads and some proteins, bookended with sourdough, charcuterie and cheese. The good news? At level 3, the tart, an exceptional pizza and many, many natural wines are all available for pick-up and take-out.
This review was written in the best of times. The cured meat ($16) came courtesy of Cazador, so I knew it was going to be good but, if you want to test the kitchen, order the fish, right?
Auckland tends to serve its kingfish raw and thin. Clay sears a thick cross-section and delivers it all crispy-skinned and smoky-meaty 'nduja-sauced. Kingfish is fast and lean and its flesh needs expert treatment to keep it succulent; too long on the heat and the flake seizes into stringy strands. Top marks, then, to this kitchen. At $24 it wasn't cheap but it was so very moist and so very delicious.
The paradox of raw beetroot is that it is very pretty to look at and very boring to eat. Here, it was saved from itself with a few slips of wakame seaweed and crunchy pumpkin seeds ($14). Nice, but the better vegetable option, in my opinion, was a pile of radicchio, spiked with sweet, fresh orange, peppery cress and funky goat's cheese ($15). A meal in itself.
About now, I hope you're thinking, "Where do I book?" You can't - when normal transmission resumes, take your chances as a walk-in and if you miss out don't worry because, these days, Karangahape Rd is heaving with great dining options. You're across the road from Cotto and somewhere in between Madame George and Apero. You won't go hungry. (All the aforementioned, BTW, are also doing take-out at level 3).
Clay is, ostensibly, a wine bar (that entire wall of chillers is not for show and an off-licence allows you to keep drinking from the comfort of your own home) with an extremely snackable menu but it may not be for everyone.
The main action takes place in a long, narrow room. There's a courtyard out back but inside everyone is on high stools at a single, shared macrocarpa-slab table. Tilt away from your neighbours while you're eating, but expect to rub shoulders en route to the bathroom. In short: If you're that person who likes their handbag to have its own seat on the bus, then you should go somewhere else (Christchurch? Greymouth?).
Go to Clay for casual catch-ups or rowdy bites with interesting wines. The playlist is quirky - obscure New Zild on one visit, vintage funk on another - and the service is outstanding. I highly recommend the pizza ($22). The crust has a sublime puffy-chew. It feels substantial enough to soak up another orange wine, thanks, minus the bread-bloat. Flavours change weekly. If you're blessed, it will be the braised fennel and fresh fennel with little tongue-pricks of lemon and large puddles of melted cheese. Or not. Frankly, I'd trust this kitchen to make cardboard taste amazing. Get online and order now!
Clay, 366 Karangahape Rd, 366krd.co.nz
We spent: $160 for two.