Icecream for the kids, water bowls for the dogs and a rosé-appropriate ricotta for the ladies who lunch. Wynyard Pavilion gets a tick from reviewer Kim Knight.
17 Jellicoe St, Auckland
Ph: (09) 303 1002
WE SPENT: $186 for two
WE THOUGHT: 17 - Great
Waterfront restaurants are the supermodels of the dining world. They are your cuter little sister, your prettier best friend, that genetically blessed brat from daycare who bites the other children but looks so adorable doing it.
I'm not saying looks are everything but even science agrees beautiful people get away with more than regular people. It stands to reason that a beautifully located restaurant with an ocean view might have an advantage over those that aren't and don't.
And yet. Anyone who has visited any First World waterfront knows they are full of tourist traps. That paella is flavoured from a packet; those fish were delivered freshly frozen. Sadly, for every great table by the sea there are many more coasting on looks and location. A famous chef once told me the best waterfront restaurants are always one street back. In my experience, Auckland's Wynyard Quarter has often proved this point.
I love flat bread with a trio of dips as much as the next person who saw Ross and Rachel kiss first time around - but come on, how much chargrilled broccolini can one city stomach? So many of these gastropubs need a refresh. Thankfully, Wynyard Pavilion (formerly known as Jack Tar) has received the memo.
Its new ethos goes beyond surface beauty. It is, indeed, beautiful - a 1930s warehouse-sized heritage building with high ceilings and honey-coloured cane and wood highlights. I enjoyed the food - but check out the $1 icecreams for kids, the Saturday morning produce market (take home organic milk, fresh bread, etc), the off-licence and the monthly "big dog walk". Curious? According to the nice man I phoned after our visit, it's the Sunday well-behaved dogs will be welcomed and watered en masse, in the garden bar.
We arrived hungry and left with a literal doggy bag. Megan's superpower is the ability to make a delicious dinner from three carrot tops and a tablespoon of kidney beans. She cannot abide food waste. She is also a vegetarian. Her handbag was packed with the lamb I could not finish and the prosciutto she would not eat, destined for the kerry blue terrier who prefers chicken to chickpeas.
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Lucky pup. Two large pieces of backstrap were perfectly cooked and seasoned and they came with an even larger croquette of lamb shoulder. Bite through the golden crunch and wallow in the slow-cooked, more-meaty-than-you'd-expect, centre. The dish ($36) came with baby carrots, labneh, pomegranate and a pumpkiny puree. Nothing to scare the horses but it was a complete and delicious meal, a definite cut above your usual deep-fried pub offering.
Two of the five seafood mains were whole fish (snapper and flounder), which is a hopeful sign of the times. Our obsession with crispy-skin fillets really doesn't do justice to all the other meat on those precious bones. I especially love gouging out the cheekbones of a whole snapper - but I didn't order it, because by now I truly feared for the interior of the vegetarian's handbag.
That prosciutto was plentiful and tasty but, at our table, a mere sideshow. We'd mostly ordered the dish ($19) for the creamy, super-fresh ricotta and sweet-roasted stone fruits. It was an unexpected delight of a small plate and it is only going to get better as the days get more rosé appropriate.
Top marks, too, for the spring pea arancini with a visible mozzarella centre ($17). Fried rice balls are, in my opinion, a real test. Easy to add to the menu, even easier to cook to the consistency of a dried baby golf ball. At Wynyard Pavilion they were moist, springy and I'd order them again. We absolutely did not need onion rings ($9) but when in a gastropub ... (Greasy in a good way, with an alarmingly yellow batter - a turmeric assist, perhaps?)
Three of the four salads are vegetarian-friendly and Megan's was chocka with asparagus, halloumi, zucchini, hazelnuts and mint with quinoa for substance and a light, lemony dressing. Early summer in a $21 bowl.
The service, up until now, might be best described as awkwardly attentive (we certainly had ample opportunity to say if we didn't like something). It moved into superlative when two pots of tea arrived, as requested, at the exact same time as our dessert. A simple request, so rarely executed. Pudding ($14) was an apple and blackberry cheesecake that came with so many little blobs of tart berry coulis it was practically a fruit platter. It came with hokey pokey icecream. There was none left for the dog.