It was a proper fucking brute of an evening. The rain was lashing down, the wind was whipping it horizontal and it was basically no kind of night to be out.
I was booked to visit one of the town’s finer seafood dining spots and was stuck a troubling distance away so had the considerable shame of taking a cab for a six minute ride to arrive at their door.
Whitebait is located on Clyde Wharf which doesn’t immediately radiate high quality dining, but appearances can, of course, be deceiving. I strode in, damp around the edges, and was shown to a table in their shell lampshaded dining room. This was despite ample kitchen bar seating where I would likely have been happier as a solo diner, but it was fine if they were keeping that for walk-ins.
They offered two menus: a four course a la carte or a tasting menu. From website investigation I was thinking the former, but several seasonal dishes from the latter hooked me in so I opted for that plus the wine pairing.
Proceedings opened with snacks of oyster with rhubarb and dill, clam with spiced clam and citrus liquor, and a hake brandade croquette. These were all extremely good.
Bread then followed. The sourdough with cultured butter was as expected. The soda bread with seaweed butter was a glorious bonus. The soda bread would have had Irish eyes smiling.
Next was lightly poached Chatham Island scampi with confit tomatoes in a fermented tomato broth. This was excellent work and one of the standout dishes of my trip so far. The scampi – essentially a big prawn tail, not the breaded-in-a-basket pish of 70s Britain – was sublime and the intense tomato accompaniments were just splendid.
Next was a whitebait dish. Given this is the name of the restaurant, I had a suspicion this might be something out of the ordinary. I’ve only ever been served whitebait as a crisp little whole fish to be munched upon, face and all, as a starter. This was instead a crisp coated cylinder of densely packed white fish on a bed of hollandaise tartare topped with sorrel. Essentially it was the poshest fish finger I’ve been served for some time.
Next we had a smoked butter topped lemon sole. The fish came away from the bone beautifully leaving a skeleton any cartoon cat would be proud of. It was entirely delicious and a really accurate piece of cooking.
The main course of Bluff hapuka featured shard crisp skin topping beautifully moist white fish flesh. The accompaniments of nasturtium and courgette brought garden freshness.
Sweets began with a palate-cleansing coconut sorbet with roasted steawberry and kawakawa. I enjoyed this rather more than the lemon souffle which followed. This was well executed with a good, zingy blueberry sorbet, but was in the realms of ‘not my kind of thing’.
Petit fours of a cherry chocolate cone and a little piece of pecan heaven were a suitably high note on which to end.
Throughout, the highly attentive, friendly and knowledgeable staff team kept me on track with matched drinks. The Gruner Veltliner was memorably good.
So overall, Whitebait served me an excellent meal that showcased the local seafood produce to excellent advantage. The atmosphere of the place is an excellent blend of elegance, gentle formality, with a really keen sense of wanting to ensure you enjoy every aspect of your time in the restaurant. I loved it and wish I had time for a second visit on this trip, but I sadly suspect I won’t. Make sure you visit when you’re next in these parts.
Blythe scores Whitebait
4.5/5 for food
4/5 for presentation
4.5/5 for setting
4.5/5 for service
giving an overall 17.5/20
I ate: snacks of oyster with rhubarb and dill, clam with spiced clam lemony goodness, hake brandade, soda bread, sourdough bread, seaweed butter, salted cultured butter, Chatham Island scampi, fermented tomato broth, confit tomatoes, West Coast whitebait, tartare hollandaise, sorrel, lemon sole on the bone, smoked chilli butter, Bluff hapuka, zucchini, nasturtium, macadamia, roasted strawberry, kawakawa, coconut, lemon souffle with blueberry sorbet, petit fours
I drank: pet nat, Gruner Veltliner, Rippon riesling, Blenheim pinot gris, pinot blanc blend, Martinborough chardonnay, Petit-Manseng, water, espresso
I wore: drenched linens
Total bill: $195
G04/1 Clyde Quay Wharf, Te Aro, Wellington 6001