Dirty Laundry does ribs by the toast rack and the best-value lobster dinner in town, writes reviewer Kim Knight
188 Quay St, Auckland
Ph: (09) 951 0150
WE THOUGHT: 17 - Great
WE SPENT: $153.70 for two.
In 1979, when West Coast ladies were asked to bring a plate, my mum brought boiled eggs.
She'd mash the yolks with condensed milk mayonnaise and a little cayenne pepper (one packet lasted 100 years unless you made Edmonds cheese scones often) then pile the yellow back into the gleaming white. A sprig of parsley, a sprinkle of paprika and refrigerate until ready - voila!
I didn't mean to order the homage to Greymouth but, 40 years later, there it was: My formative years on two small shared plates. Turns out "devilled" eggs are what prosaic West Coast ladies called "stuffed" eggs. Down there, they also tend to call a spade a f***ing shovel, so I'm not sure what they would have made of the whitebait. Cue Letter to the Editor from Outraged of Okarito: this is not a patty!
Dirty Laundry presents whitebait as a tangle of flash-fried individual fish, flecked with chilli, scented with garlic and piled on a slice of lightly toasted white french loaf ($13.95). Somehow, this suspiciously Auckland treatment works. The salty-fishy-river-sweet flavour is amplified and an increasingly rare resource feels properly honoured in the process.
Whitebait is a hard-won wild fish. Given how long it takes to accumulate enough for a feed even West Coasters are more likely to eat it defrosted than fresh. The season is short and anything being served right now has definitely been frozen. Is this a bad thing? Dirty Laundry's was the nicest (and best value) whitebait I've eaten in a long time.
The stuffed eggs were also excellent. Fudgy yolk and squeaky white, with a little pot of housebrand relish that was more sweet than spice - $7.95 worth of protein-packed bar snack.
Expectations were being thoroughly exceeded. First impressions matter and, these days, they start at the keyboard. Sure, the owners have pedigree (it's from Good Group Hospitality, which also operates White + Wongs, Botswana Butchery, etc) but Dirty Laundry's website typeface is one drop-shadow cap short of Comic Sans and its brand message is even more outdated. "Get dirty" is more provincial sports bar than Queen's Wharf adjacent and that's a shame, because the food is lovely and the fit-out interesting enough to guarantee at least 10 minutes of small talk.
Restaurant review: Mike's Famous Seafood
Restaurant review: White + Wongs
The target audience is downtown corporates. Raised bar-leaners with very comfy stools encourage a kind of lordiness, but it's the happy hour hand-outs you'll want to settle in for (especially if they include the chicken liver paté toasts with pickled prunes and spiced nuts).
A word about the service. When I wondered about ordering a salad, the waitperson said: "We're out for dinner, so we don't have to eat our greens, do we?" You'll either love this level of familiarity, or wish you were somewhere far, far away.
I had the lobster roll as a main and not just because it came with a $5 flute of Mumm ("Champagne month") upgrade. Slightly traumatised by a recent suburban encounter with a battered (in many senses of the word) crayfish tail, I was looking for redemption. Dirty Laundry delivered. A whole tail, slightly sweet brioche bun, fresh greens, old-school cocktail sauce-style mayo and truffle-scented shoestring fries on the side - the best (and possibly only?) $29.95 restaurant quality crayfish deal in the city.
My dinner date had ribs. Thick, meaty, rib-sticking ribs, served in a toast rack for carnivores. Clever but no finger bowl. Head to the bathroom where the wallpaper is consenting-adults-only (and, perhaps, a clue to how this restaurant got its name).
According to the owners, Dirty Laundry is filling an inner city dining gap. Fancy but not too fancy, with a few twists on the tried and true. I've read that kind of mission statement a million times before but in this case I think they've nailed it. Lamb tartare with buffalo cheese. Chicken noodle soup. An "icebox" salad with ham and radish. That whitebait. It's a genuinely surprising and very well-executed menu in a casually sophisticated space with attentive service. We'll be back, won't we?