67 Customs St
Ph: (09) 379 1860
WE SPENT: $278 for two
WE THOUGHT: 17 - Great
Every restaurant starts with a perfect score. A clean (forgive me) plate.
As the meal unfolds, points dissolve. It might be a service snag. Wildly uncomfortable seats. Overpriced dishes. The restaurant's score becomes an unstable foam made by a chef who wishes they'd never bought that molecular gastronomy kit.
Harbour Society's bubble started to burst 8-10 minutes after we'd eaten our entree. Our meal started with an amuse-bouche and progressed through bread and butter, oysters, three courses and an unexpected plate of petits fours. Our bill was opened at 6.51pm and closed at 8.10pm. In 79 minutes we ate more food than I'd normally consume in the course of an entire working day, counting breakfast. I felt like a foie gras goose.
The restaurant is in a hotel. Away from home on a midweek work trip I'd be grateful for a casually opulent quick feed. On a Saturday night when we'd ordered oysters and one of our entrees was $34, I had not expected it to still be daylight when we finished.
You're on the 15th floor of a very stylish building. The wait staff wear psychedelic T-shirts and burnt orange safari suit jackets. The bread and bloody-amazing-butter is free and the amuse-bouche features tempura squid ink. Tempura squid ink? I know, right?
The service is hotel-slick, but there are humans inside those suits. Feel the pain of the waitperson who dolefully laments an ugly construction site across the road. I hadn't noticed. Rangitoto had my full attention and also the free butter was infused with truffle and possibly drugs. It's seriously addictive but you don't need to lick the knife, because those lovely waitpeople have already refilled your bread basket. "Some people say the bread is the best thing here," said one. Those people should order the octopus ($23).
Little discs of compressed capsicum, tiny sprigs of ice plant, blobs of calamansi, dense octopus and (at this point my taste buds may have actually exploded) specks of licorice strap. Close your eyes and think of Greece. Across the table, a glass dome trapped woodsmoke against a chantilly cream and sublimely just-cooked crayfish but I was eating an octopus' garden. It was one of the best things I've had this year.
I went to the bathroom between courses. I don't often mention this part of the evening, but the seat was so high my feet didn't touch the ground and it added a weird kind of whimsy to an experience that had, so far, been a bit Lewis Carroll-meets-Wes Anderson.
Reality came quick. I was in no way ready for my main course, but there it was: two long green beans balanced on two slabs of duck. Baby carrots vertically cemented to the plate. Blobs of green, orange and white and a dripped and dribbled jus. It appeared I had accidentally ordered a Joan Miro painting.
The duck ($44) was poached in milk, lacquered in manuka honey and tasted absurdly good. Ditto a $44 seared black Angus beef - assuming you're okay with a small sculptural installation of three perfectly balanced chips. Harbour Society's kitchen can cook, but that plating is circa the decade in which we drank champagne from our shoes and ate caviar for pudding.
You can actually get caviar here. It's $126 for 15g (slightly more than a gram of cocaine in the United States and considerably cheaper for the same in New Zealand) but Canvas has a budget and it was committed to dessert ($19 a serve).
The fussiness that had been slightly amusing on our mains plates was, this round, simply annoying. "Banana" appeared as a piped spiral of cream; a Baileys parfait was adorned with a disc of ostentatiously sparkly gold-painted chocolate. I hadn't picked up my spoon before the waitperson was back with a selection of complimentary petits fours and would we like a tea or coffee? I would have liked a little lie-down. Sadly, our budget did not stretch to getting a room.