Restaurant Review: The Crew Club, Viaduct
Phone: 09 365 2690
From the menu: Crayfish and crab roll $19.50, Salt & pepper squid $18.90, Pickled & raw baby carrots $19.90, Whole roast flounder $33, Pork chop $34.90, Meyer lemon meringue $14, Icy slice $11.
Drinks: Fully licensed
The Crew Club is an attention seeker, that's for sure. It'd been open less than a week and I'd already heard a range of reports on what to expect from the Viaduct's latest eatery and bar; the design (by Jasmax) is flawless, the food is fabulous, the food is variable, the service is all over the place, the menu is too big, the menu is too small.
Actually, that last one is made up - no one had mentioned a lack of choice and I could see why once we were settled in at a table on the outside deck. Chef Nick Haszard's (ex-Dine by Peter Gordon) menu is extensive.
I've learned that with a large menu there's no point in dilly-dallying, getting distracted by the difference between bites and snacks, small plates or group grazing, whether it's from the ocean or not, wood-fired or grilled, from this garden or that farm ...
Elimination is the key. I knew we weren't in line for burgers, fish 'n' chips, hunks of beef or anything served on a wooden board so that narrowed it down nicely.
Two crab and crayfish rolls, paired with a glass of Moet, were the perfect way to set the mood for this urban beach club retreat. We sank deeper into our chairs and basked like a couple of happy holiday-makers and perused our sublime surrounds: the proximity to the aquamarine water - aah, how the saltiness and gentle sea breeze teased us - the boats that gently slid in and out, the dynamic and gorgeous harbour, the great white structure of Princes Wharf.
Sure, if the weather had been less dazzling and if we'd wanted to, we could have noticed the prices (if you're trying to impress friends with crayfish and oysters, a platter of ocean bounty goes for $155) or that the black tables and chairs outside seem a strange choice giving the propensity for them to attract the heat or that some of the staff are consummate professionals while others seem too timid for the role...
But we chose not to notice any of that, bathed as we were in just the right amount of sunshine and good humour.
A plate of salt and pepper squid may sound pedestrian but it is anything but ordinary. It comes as soft leaves of squid steak meat, ever so slightly flashed on the grill while, piled on top, is a tangle of crisp, meaty tentacles flecked with roasted chilli, fried garlic, mint and a tahini dressing. It was banging with flavour and texture and quite the best squid I've had in a long while. Don't think about salt and pepper squid as you know it, this is far superior.
A whole flounder is roasted and at the hands of this kitchen crew, wonderful. Swimming in a buttery sauce with the complex seasoning of preserved lemon, chilli (but not too much), fennel and hazelnuts, I happily swooped up my half before reluctantly swapping with my dining companion (a deal's a deal) for half of the pork chop dish.
Hard to tell which I preferred. The pork was pure heaven. The fat had been removed (boohoo) but a terrific bagna cauda, a garlic and anchovy sauce, made up for that and matchsticks of granny smith and kohlrabi added all the necessary acidity that pork needs to be balanced.
But the favourite dish of the day was a pickled and raw carrot salad. It mustn't be missed. With whipped goat's cheese cut with creme fraiche, seeds - sesame, pumpkin and probably chia - held together in clusters with honey, as well as small, glossy pieces of honeycomb honey nestled in among the beautifully turned and ribboned tangy carrots and fresh dill lazily scattered about, every mouthful was a delight.
It may seem like a strange thing to say but I hope The Crew Club doesn't get any worse. Right now it is dazzlingly new and sitting pretty on the waterside, but it doesn't take much for such places to begin to rely on their position and the fact that such locales will always draw a steady stream of tourists.
Before you know it, they've become a place to get a bowl of fries and a cold drink. I hope The Crew Club goes the other way, filling out like a graceful spinnaker, unfurling and gathering momentum until it is full steam ahead. It looks like it just might.