“ Address: Unit 1 / 23 Princess Wharf / Auckland 8041 / New Zealand / Tel: +64 (09) 358 3118 „
When in Auckland, myself & Ms Larsbaby were looking for an interesting dining experience along the waterside in the city. Gazing at the various post lunch offers at about 3pm, we plumped for the Neptune Cafe & Bar. Well actually I plumped for it, and I've been listening to Ms Larsbaby's moaning ever since. Read on.
The harbour side in Auckland city centre is home to a strip of bars and restaurants, on which Neptune Cafe & Bar is located, at the end towards Quay Street. This was an excellent location to catch passing tourists such as ourselves. The bar was spacious, with lots of light coming from the full length windows onto the waterside. To the front of the entrance was the kitchen, which had a large serving hatch such that you could see into the kitchen; in fact once or twice I found myself on nodding terms with one of the chefs. To the left of the entrance, on a curved section of highly polished wooden floor, was a dining area of a couple of tables, with metal chairs. The wallpaper was a curious white pattern on a grey background, looking like something from a 60s mockumentary. To the right was the bar area with some high seating around it. This has a stylish curve in the ceiling and a restaurant logo.
Around the edges of the lino floored main seating area there were many wooden topped tables for 2 to 4 people, along with some tables outside. Further inside were tables for 4 to 8.
As we sat down we were brought a jug of water to the table. It seems to be the norm in New Zealand to have a free jug of tap water with your meal, which I think is great as you seldom have to ask for it. I ordered a café latte to drink and this was pretty acceptable; it didn't need any sugar which I always see as a positive sign. We ordered a seafood platter for myself and Ms Larsbaby to share and this arrived after some time. This consisted of some nicely arranged seafood, bread and dips on a big white square plate. Rather oddly, it also consisted of blue cheese, feta and brie slices sitting not quite seperate, on the side but directly with the seafood. The 3 tapenade dips were in a separate 3 compartment white dish on the plate; perhaps the cheese should have been served like this too?
The tapenades were very tasty and obviously freshly made; tomato and garlic which has little pieces of garlic, which was tasty; sweet onion relish which was a little too sweet for my taste; and a very garlicky rough textured pesto which was very nice. Some pickled onions, a small gherkin, olives and sun dried tomatoes were on the side and a greenish, creamy sauce completed this dish. The seafood had various parts to it. The battered fish pieces were 2 fillets of white fish that weren't greasy, with a good taste and texture to them. 3 scallops were included, red roe still attached which were soft but with a bit of bite, and so not melt in the mouth. The tail on shrimps were nice and crispy, with a good firm bite. The local green lipped mussels were quite big, as we'd come to expect; probably double the size of anything we're used to in the UK, with their decorative green tinted shells. These were very nice and plump with a good taste. Some sheets of smoked salmon were pretty plain to be honest, lacking any real taste; this may be explained by the fact that only farmed salmon can be sold here. I'm still unsure whether the battered rings we ate were squid or potato; I'm sticking with my first guess of potato, again not greasy and nicely fluffy on the inside. The pickled onions were nice and crispy, as was the gherkin, and the sundried tomato apparently home made, with a fresher texture than those usually found in a jar. The olives were reasonable, but not being a huge fan I wasn't bothered one way or the other. The thick Turkish bread was nice and fresh; quite light and excellent to dip in the tapenades.
Now as individual components, the seafood morsels were perfectly acceptable, and this would have been fine if the sauce and cheese hadn't been there, too. There was nothing wrong with the sauce itself, a herby, creamy concoction, but it was everywhere, getting into much of the seafood. The same went for the cheese, which had slightly melted from the seafood heat and attached itself to the seafood and sauce. I guess you could call it brave to try and experiment like this, but Ms Larsbaby took great exception; personally I didn't mind it so much. But there were definitely too many competing flavours; why would you need a sauce, olives, pickles and tapenades to supplement such excellent fresh seafood? I would expect this kind of makeover with less than fresh ingredients to hide the substandard or weak tastes. This seafood could speak for itself without too much interference.
In hindsight (as Ms Larsbaby even now points out), perhaps the sight of a waitress hawking outside wasn't promising, as none of the surrounding restaurants were employing this strategy. At $42 (plus tip), the platter certainly justified the price for the raw materials alone, but unfortunately the sum of its many parts didn't add up; the platter was just far too busy. The friendly, helpful service and pretty environment still made this an experience worth having. But there is nothing wrong with simplicity and perhaps they should bear this in mind when trying to create their own crossover dishes.
Neptune Cafe & Bar
Unit 1/23 Princess Wharf
Telephone : (09) 358 3118