Even better than the real thing? Kim Knight considers the Canadian crayfish at the latest Auckland Fish Market eatery while Yvonne Lorkin recommends drinks.
Lobster roll is the new salt and pepper squid. The luxe white bread bun is on menus across the city but everyone I talk to says the same thing: It doesn't taste like crayfish.
I think what they mean is that it's not as sweet or as juicy as the stuff they remember from borrowed-bach holidays. It doesn't stink of summer. It doesn't stink of anything much at all. It could be formed and flavoured surimi for all the joy it brings.
At Lobster & Tap the signs says "Canadian wild caught lobster". I lived in Canada for 12 months but it was Manitoba, where they grow mostly wheat. Occasionally, someone would drill a hole through the lake ice and catch a northern pike. Lobster was not on the menu. Lobster lived off the coast of Nova Scotia - a 36-hour drive from the prairies.
According to the most recent statistics I could find, around 90,000 tonnes of Canadian lobster is harvested annually. It's the country's most valuable export fishery and, while there are concerns about the entanglement of whales and turtles, Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch assessment lists it as a "good alternative" for consumers who want to minimise their environmental impact.
So, yes please, I'll have the hot buttered lobster roll combo ($25.90 with chips, coleslaw and a pickle) and also the classic Kiwi dip with chopped lobster and crisps ($11.90). Order from the window counter of the outdoor courtyard at the Auckland Fish Market and they'll buzz you when the food is ready. Like the name of the place suggests, the beer and wine is on tap. I asked what the rosé was and the answer was "Central Otago" (head across the courtyard to The Wreck bar if you want to read an actual wine list).
The revamped Auckland Fish Market opened in December 2018. I love this mini seaside food court that is an excellent option for pre-Waterfront Theatre dining (hello, Auckland Arts Festival) and long, sunny lunches. Go there for whitebait dumplings, freshly shucked oysters and fish and chips, but also go home with a bag of frozen mussel meat for a bargain 10 bucks. It's food that makes sense in this city. Auckland is an isthmus - a narrow strip of land with the sea on either side - and kai moana is, literally, on our doorstep.
Unfortunately, some people have had way too much of a very good thing. Auckland's recreational fishers are still allowed to collect six crays a day but, in the Hauraki Gulf, they've been labelled "functionally extinct". The consumption of Canadian lobster within spitting distance of the New Zealand fishery is a cautionary tail. Pun intended.
We ordered that upgraded dip because it read funny and clever and only a monster doesn't love reduced cream and packet soup mix (with malt vinegar, not lemon!). It didn't taste like lobster. Essentially, it tasted like the aftermatch function at a provincial rugby club and, as the sun beat down, the analogy strengthened. On the other hand, they were Proper Crisps - and there were plenty of them.
The coleslaw is excellent (once I realised the flecks of black were cracked pepper) and there were no complaints about the little enamel cup of hot chips - crunchy, fluffy, salty.
Sarah skipped the titular dishes and went for the oyster po'boy combo ($23.90) in which three of the country's most expensive shellfish were battered, deep-fried and slammed into a soft white bread roll. Lobster & Tap added jalapeno but they might also consider adding more sauce to soak up all the chopped iceberg lettuce.
The best crayfish deal in Auckland?
Across the table, a salad of sorts ($22.90). It was served poke style, in a bowl brimming with separate components. Lobster for ladies who don't so much lunch, as lurk on the edges, stabbing bits of cucumber. It looked pretty, but required much mixing (and, frankly, a bigger bowl) to achieve maximum edibility.
The lobster? A little dry and flabby in the salad but absolutely fine in my hot buttered roll, because this is a dish that is more than the sum of its parts. Many thousand air miles from its New England, America origin story, the lobster roll is something you've seen in a film or read in a book. It is an exotic romance perpetuated by pop culture and realised by virtue of living in an upwardly mobile global village. Summer is short and food trends are fleeting, so enjoy it while it lasts. And don't forget that, once upon a time, we had the real thing.
Lobster & Tap
Auckland Fish Market
22 Jellicoe St
Ph: (09) 303 0262
WE SPENT: $90 for three
WE THOUGHT: 13 - Good
Sip the list
Despite the wine list at The Wreck being dominated by one very large wine distributor (Pernod-Ricard) the actual selection is pretty darn satisfactory. No matter if you're in the mood for magnum of Mumm Grande Champagne ($250) or a cheeky little $10 flute of prosecco, the fizz list will easily bring the grins. Hustling for a late afternoon rosé? Take your pick of something from Marlborough or Hawke's Bay, Spain's rioja region or my current fave, the Clos de l'Ours from Provence. Step sideways where sauvignon blanc is concerned by trying the Amisfield from Central Otago, a French, chablis-style chardonnay from William Fevre, wild yeast-fermented pinot gris from Prophets Rock or an albarino grown not in Spain but rather Bridge Pa. Red fans can stretch the old taste buds with the Charles Smith Boom Boom syrah from Washington State, a glass of The Last Shepherd pinot noir from Central Otago, or the classic Church Road McDonald Series Merlot from Hawke's Bay. Plus there's more cabernet than you can shake your eftpos at — and it's all rather reasonably priced. Nice one, Wreckers. — Yvonne Lorkin