The south end of Shed 5 is now unrecognisable in its Crab Shack guise. Expense-account lunches and Steinlager-fuelled Friday night mating rituals have made way for a folksy, family-friendly Cape Cod-themed eatery, complete with crab pots, surf videos and PowerPoint slides advertising daily specials. It takes a lot of work to make a place look this shabby, and when they ran out of actual distressed timber to line the walls, they resorted to wallpaper with a distressed timber print. With grinning staff in “Have you got crabs? We have!” T‑shirts, it feels like the start of a chain: an aquatic Lone Star, perhaps.
They don’t take bookings for small groups, and since there’s no bar, for our 40-minute wait we were pointed towards Shed 5. This entails a trip through the hushed cavernous space to the indifferent bar service of the former Green Room, an awkward interruption in the boisterous bonhomie. At least the wine selection was better, though the beer list was just as depressingly corporate.
Things improved back in the shack, and the meal began with a touch of theatre as a waiter used a muddling stick to smash the large tortilla-like ‘corn chips’ in our corn chip platter into manageable pieces. The blue cheese and ‘Indian pumpkin’ dips had rich (if somewhat incongruous) flavours, in contrast to the overly mild crab and corn dip.
Similarly, the crab cakes and remoulade didn’t live up to their effusive staff recommendation. The texture was moreish, but crab flavours were so faint that these might as well have been potato croquettes. My date, wiser in the ways of the crustacean than I, agreed that they were disappointingly uncrabby. Mind you, she was too busy slurping up the last of the white wine, chilli and garlic cream that accompanied her pot of mussels, and she had no complaints whatsoever with their flavour and succulence or with the generosity of her portion.
Next was Cajun fish, cooked in rock salt and lime sauce. It was all present and correct, if unexciting, but I chose the wrong accompaniment: Dutch babies with Gorgonzola cheese sauce. These savoury popovers resembled (slightly burnt) Yorkshire puddings, with strong blue cheese flavours. They would better suit the meatier items on the menu, which are saddled with names such as “Messy Cow” and “Grumpy Lamb Shank”. What, no “Angry Bird”?
My date’s 1kg pot of Nelson paddle crabs in chilli garlic butter was labelled “Crab to Share”, but she wouldn’t part with more than the occasional limb. Their texture and freshness were impeccable, and the mild crab flavour benefited from directness of presentation. So to enjoy Crab Shack, go for the simple seafood, take loud friends and modest expectations, and you’ll be fine.[warning]
Address: Shed 5, Queens Wharf, Wellington
Phone: 04 916 4250
Cost: starters $6.50–21.50; mains $20–27
Open: Daily 11.30am–late
Food: New England seafood
Drink: Crafty Beggars Pilsner $8; Main Divide Riesling $9.50/glass, $46/bottle
I used to wonder how La Cloche could be so successful, marooned as it is among the semi-industrial edgelands at the bottom of Ngaio Gorge. But it’s halfway between Thorndon and Khandallah, and a quick glance around suggests that the patrons are not the type to worry about hopping in the beemer to grab some millefeuilles. Even for the car-free among us, it’s worth the trek to sample their superb terrines, patisserie, crêpes, onion soup or boeuf bourguignon. It’s also a deli and off-licence, so be sure to stuff your bags with cheese, pâté and wine for later indulgence.
Address: 134 Hutt Road, Kaiwharawhara
Phone: 04 473 4892
Open: Mon–Fri 7.30am–4pm, Sat–Sun 9am–4pm[/info]