Review: Fish, Princes Wharf
Phone: (09) 978 2020
Cuisine: Modern New Zealand - Seafood focus
From the menu: Linguine and cockles $22, tuna tartare $25, butternut ravioli $22, Venetian-style prawns $32, Shane's seafood stew $40, Hauraki Gulf snapper $35, sides 7.50 each - fennel, orange and gorgonzola salad, thick-cut fries, coconut rice pudding $17, buttermilk panna cotta $17
Drinks: Fully licensed
I've got that summer feeling - and is it any wonder? From where I'm sitting, it's like I'm on the deck of a superyacht, the vast sparkling harbour stretching out in front of me, the cityscape beginning to shine in the twilight, ferries swishing past, their white veils trailing behind them.
Yes, this is the feeling you get when you're dining at Fish Restaurant, in the Hilton, at the end of Princes Wharf. The sense of relaxed sophistication starts from the moment you drive up to the door and hand your keys to the affable doorman who takes care of it for you - complimentary valet parking comes with a table reservation. So dignified.
The menu reads well and by that I mean the attraction to dishes that include "Hauraki Gulf snapper" when you're sitting right on the water, is instant. Chef Shane Yardley's menu is focused squarely on seafood, though he's smart enough to know a beef, lamb and chicken offering is compulsory if you're a hotel restaurant. We ignored these and stuck to the sea. How could we not with all that glistening water surrounding us?
Thin ribbons of linguine were tossed with fat, juicy Cloudy Bay clams, delicately steamed so that they remained plump and fleshy. A simple sauce of white wine, the salt-tinged cooking juices and butter pooled at the bottom of the bowl and a spike of fresh chilli made it all sing.
I slurped up every last strand and every last drop, so satisfying were the flavours. A dish of butternut ravioli was just as magnificent. Large, floppy parcels filled with smooth, sweet butternut and although crisp sage leaves are to be expected, the balsamic onion and orange crumbs were inspired as flavours to match the squash.
This dish was drenched in butter and we liked that. Playing fast and loose with one's calorific intake at this time of year is liberating.
A tuna tartare was the opposite of these two comfort food dishes - clean, fresh, modern with all the aspects we've come to expect from these types of preparations: gels, dots, puffed something (in this case rice) and all of it presented as pure art. One of the best flavours on the plate came from a reduction that was complex, hard to pin down, with citrus tones, yet different. After a few dabs I got it: lemon pith. Surprisingly refreshing.
The joy continued with our mains. No wonder Yardley puts his name on the fish stew - it's a beauty. A rich rouille, spicy, with plenty of garlic, is smeared thickly on a crouton, generous amounts of fish and shellfish sit in a deep rich bisque-type soup. Big on flavour.
The Hauraki Gulf snapper isn't mucked around with and predictable; capers, lemon and parsley do the trick of making a hero out of the fish. Instead the creativity comes in a prawn-crusted potato. Nice.
Venetian-style prawns are wonderful, and soft translucent onions, punctuated with raisins and plenty of plum prawns - taut and sweet - make a great combination. I did wonder at the decision to serve it as a warm dish and on couscous, but each to their own.
A fennel, orange and gorgonzola salad was bland to look at and the walnuts could have done with freshening up, but it was adequate.
If I had any complaints, they came with the desserts. The sweets at Fish feature tropical fruit. I'd have preferred to see stonefruit or rhubarb, feijoa or some other of our wonderful local produce. Nonetheless, the buttermilk panna cotta was sublime on a hot evening, the cool, soured cream sliding down the throat. And a coconut rice foam made me wish there was twice as much of it.
There's something about a decent hotel restaurant. If it's stylish enough you feel like you're on holiday just by dining there. Fish has that. You call in for dinner and you leave feeling like you've had a holiday. Brilliant.