I’ve enjoyed a few memorable oyster moments.
The first was on a road trip with the man who would become my husband. It was also the first oyster I’d eaten that wasn’t from a tin and that didn’t get eaten on a jatz cracker.
We were in Batemans Bay and sat on the wharf eating freshly shucked Clyde River oysters from a polystyrene plate. We hadn’t been dating for long and it was our first time away together. I’ll treasure those memories forever.
The next was many years later in a pub in Queenstown. It was early March and the first Bluff oysters for the season hadn’t long arrived. I ordered half a dozen- and a glass of local bubbles- and ate them slowly, savouring their salty, ozoney goodness.
Then there was the morning at Borough Markets eating Richard Haward’s Colchester beauties from off the coast of Essex. It was 11am on a cold December morning and we ordered oysters and prosecco…and then another serve…and another glass of prosecco.
On Friday night, I had another close – your – eyes – and – savour – the – sea memorable oyster moment. Again it was in New Zealand; again they were from Bluff; again sparkling wine was involved. This time though, for the first time, my memorable oyster moment was in a fine restaurant: Whitebait in Wellington.
Given that oysters are considered to be a luxury ingredient, this probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to many of you. Surely great oysters belong in a fine dining establishment? For me, though, they’re at their best freshly shucked, with a squeeze of lemon, maybe a touch of vinaigrette, slurped straight from the shell. They should take you back to the sea they came from. It’s why the ones I’ve enjoyed the most haven’t involved cutlery and white tablecloths.
Whitebait, though, manages to take you there- to the sea. Perhaps it’s the location, maybe it’s the paua light treatment, but more probably it’s the respect the chef gives the ingredients the sea has offered up. And yes, I know how everyone talks about treating ingredients with respect…blah flipping blah. You can tell when there’s a real love for the sea and what she has to offer…know what I mean?
The references to the sea are everywhere- in the décor, in the logo, in the Maori Karakia… or prayer and greeting:
Nau mai e ngā hua o te wao
o te ngakina
o te wai tai o te wai Māori
Haumi e! Hui e! Tāiki e!
Welcome the gifts of food from the sacred forests
from the cultivated gardens
from the sea from the fresh waters
Draw together! Affirm!
What did I eat?
Following the memorable oysters I had the Leigh Snapper and Cloudy Bay clam ceviche (Ika mata tāmure tuangi) with fresh coconut cream, lime, chilli and crispy fried plantain.
It was as it should be: light, zesty, flavourful…setting the palate up for what was to follow…which was Leigh Hapuka with herb and parmesan crust, braised fennel, pancetta, tomato and basil oil. The fish was perfectly cooked, but the whole dish was a garden in my mouth- a real earth and sea combo.
Oh, in case you’re interested, Leigh is a small coastal community on the North Island- sort of in the Auckland region.
Now, for the clincher…I had dessert…and those who know me know that I don’t tend to do dessert- and when I do, it had better be worth the calories…and this one was.
I had green apple crèmeux (Pōhā Āporo kākāriki me te kirimī) with boysenberry jelly, white chocolate and apple shard. The flavours were clear and pure- with the tart balancing the sweet.
My friend had local raspberries with mascarpone mousse, watermelon and pinenuts. Just how pretty does it look?
Her husband chose (for about the fourth time) the poached peach and Amaretto soufflé pudding with almond anglaise. He declared it the best he’s had…and he’s had a few…
And my overall verdict? The best meal I’ve had in ages…and absolutely the best meal I’ve had in Wellington- and I’ve had some great meals in Wellywood over the years.
If you want to know more about Whitebait, or are in town and need to make a booking, check out their website here.
Ok, fess up…oysters: yay or nay?