Dining at The Crab Shack on Princess Wharf. Picture / Jason Dorday.

Restaurant Review: The Crab Shack

Dining on crab is a hands-on feast that entails a bit of wrestling. Nici Wickes wrangles delicious crustaceans at The Crab Shack

Address: 21 Princes Wharf, City
Phone: (09) 972 1599
Cuisine: Casual
From the menu: Crab & crayfish cakes $16, Clam chowder $15, Crab & prawn cocktail $24, Nelson paddle crab $40, Rewena bread $7, Salted caramel jar $12.50
Drinks: Fully licensed
Rating: 7/10

Love shack. Beach shack. Shacked up. To me, “shack” is a wonderful word that conjures up rustic charm and the relaxed, carefree attitude we all long for.

As we saunter down Princes Wharf in search of Simon Gault’s newest addition to our dining scene, The Crab Shack, I’m looking for a small, hut-like establishment, perhaps even a bit rough around the edges.

Instead, we stumble on a large, colourful bar and eatery, admittedly draped in all the fishing paraphernalia you would expect, that is bustling with everyone from overseas visitors to families, the shirt and tie brigade and other odds and sods, including us, two old friends due for a catch-up.

We want to sit and gaze at the ferries as they come and go, but all the tables with views are taken, so we settle for one under the fishing nets and suspended crabpots overlooking the kitchen.

The Mussels and Nelson paddle crab on the menu at The Crab Shack. Picture / Jason Dorday.

The Crab Shack menu is a massive undertaking of everything from burgers and steak to steamed shellfish (sold by the scoop) and salads and — of course — there’s crab. We purposely order crab, crab and more crab and it’s telling that when we turn up, both admitting to being a little tired and not that hungry, with the first mouthful, our appetites are coaxed into a frenzy.

We devour an order of crab and crayfish cakes, which are crispy, creamy and zingy, with plenty of lime zest and accompanied by an interesting Pacific Island coconut and onion cream; it looks like tartare but is much more interesting.

Suddenly, we are transformed from two jaded humans into enthusiastic diners.

We manage two more starters: a parfait glass crammed with a crab and prawn cocktail and a clam chowder.

If you like your chowder thick, with large chunks of seafood and potato, the Crab Shack model may not thrill you, but I like its finesse — not too viscous, flecked with plenty of parsley, clams and beautifully, minutely, diced potatoes. Best of all, it isn’t out to impress with size, being served in a small jar.

On the other hand, the prawn and crab cocktail feels gratuitous, though, if you persevere, the crunch of juicy iceberg lettuce at the bottom is the highlight.

As we’d come for crab, the main course we choose is the kilo of Nelson paddle crab.

To truly enjoy a full-on feast of this nature, you’ve got to be set up correctly and, at The Crab Shack, they understand this. Bibs are issued, a small pail of water for washing hands when it all gets messy (served at room temperature because warm or hot water in the fingerbowl merely ensures you smell of crab for days), and a set of shiny tools for each diner to tease the sweet crabmeat from the shells.

Interior of The Crab Shack on Princess Wharf. Picture / Jason Dorday. 

I’d brought my own hair tie, essential to the practice of eating crab. So we set to.

Cracking, prodding, sucking, slurping through our generous serve of crab doused in chilli and spring onions with a deliriously deep, rich broth at the bottom of the bowl.

If there’s one way to shut a couple of good friends up, this is it. Over the next 45 minutes we love getting among it, enjoying every hard-won morsel.

The best bit lies at the bottom of the bowl — that puddle of rich, buttery broth, which, I suspect, is enriched with a meaty stock, it is so divine. We soak it up with hunks of rewena bread and agree that this combination alone — the crab and bread — is worth visiting The Crab Shack for.

Hands washed and bibs removed, we decide to finish by sharing a dessert — the salted caramel jar. Alas, it isn’t a big hit with us, but do we care? We do not.

After all that lip-smacking crab we are merely being greedy and what fools are we to expect first-class desserts from a shack specialising in crustaceans?

I’m picking this is one shack that will be around for a while and if you’re looking for a bucket of perfectly cooked fresh crab and a beer, it is where you should go.

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