This review required some mental time travel on my behalf, because while this issue will come out in early summer, we dined in the depths of winter. We tried to imagine gazing out across the dunes towards a golden sunset, Kapiti Island cast into glorious silhouette as the last rays stroked the sky… but our thoughts were drowned out by the rattle of hail against the darkened windows.
The staff did a valiant job of making the light and airy space feel cosy, with a large fire, portable heaters and warm smiles, though they battled against draughts and a half-empty dining room. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the decor would be perfectly suited to summer: mostly plain, letting the view dominate, but with some playful Kiwiana touches that stay just on the right side of cliché.
We began with two dishes that looked optimistically towards spring: crab ravioli, and risotto with peas and Montevecchio cheese. The former was definitely entrée-sized: just two modest ravioli in a dark puddle of crab bisque. Each raviolo contained a fairly unadorned serving of roughly shredded crab meat, but this allowed a direct expression of the crab’s texture and flavour. The bisque was much more intense, but stopped short of overpowering the crab meat, and the simplicity of the result was delightful. In contrast, the risotto was a hefty portion, verging on stodgy. The cheese flavour was muted, and if they were relying on the verdant freshness of peas to lift the dish, then it was the wrong season.
Things looked up with the fish of the day, pan-roasted snapper, which arrived on a seasonally appropriate plinth of roast pumpkin with parsnip purée. While the pumpkin was a touch undercooked, it was enlivened by an agrodolce reduction, which also cut through the butteriness of the crab and chive sauce. But the snapper itself was the star, and in particular the glorious crunch of its skin.
My lamb rump was also wintry, served atop thick slices of parsnip and carrot and a viscous pea purée. While the lamb was attractively pink, it was just short of tender. On the other hand, I surprised myself by enjoying the Brussels sprouts (though pickling can make almost anything palatable) and a cauliflower side dish (Gorgonzola gratin will do likewise).
For dessert, orange mousse was subtly delicious, with a delicate texture, but it paled beside the magnificence of their Sicilian parfait. Much more rustic in texture than the silky fluffiness I normally associate with parfaits, this had a toothsome contrast between creaminess and crunch. According to the waiter, the secret was a combination of candied roasted hazelnuts and almonds, ground into a caramelly nutty richness, topped off by slivered almonds and chocolate sauce.
Waimea tries to cover all the bases. The dishes we sampled were somewhere between reliable café fare and simplified fine dining, though at a reasonable price and with a commendable emphasis on fresh local produce. The menu also includes pizza and tapas, so they have something to offer anyone who comes here for the seaside location. Getting here by public transport would be a frustrating mission, so as a car-free urbanite I’m unlikely to be tempted out of central Wellington. But if you’re in the neighbourhood, or drawn here by the climate and view, then the food will not disappoint.[warning]
Address: 1 Waimea Road, Waikanae
Phone: 04 293 4240
Cost: Entrées $10–20; mains $23–30
Open: Wed–Sun 9am–1am
Food: Mediterranean/modern New Zealand
Drink: Tuatara Hefe $7; Riondo Pinot Grigio $9/glass, $45/bottle[/warning]
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