There’s nothing quite as thrilling for a foodie than getting to a new restaurant within the first week of opening. Luckily, I have friends who live on Princes Wharf who were equally keen to check out the new neighbourhood local.
During our pre-dinner drinks in the spacious bar area, overlooking a bustling ferry terminal on a damp late summer evening, it certainly felt like we could have been somewhere on the East Coast of the United States, a location that goes hand in hand with crab. We discussed at length the long history of establishments that haven’t managed to make that corner work and discussed the merits of food you can eat wholeheartedly, fingers and all.
Special mention should go to the bar snack popcorn, served complimentarily (always a nice touch) at the bar. Tasty and again, finger food. In terms of bar selection, a line-up of the usual suspects but you don’t need much more than a cold pilsner or lager here. I did find the Blue Lagoon hard to resist though. Blue drinks. Delicious and fun, with a little attitude.
That’s exactly what The Crab Shack is. An recent institution in Wellington, the fishing net faux-crab pots, beach shack and brass tack fit-out creates a suitably seaward but not overly tweaked atmosphere. The people manage to do the rest. Although not booked solid, there was a steady turnover of locals and tourists and we were delighted to see Simon Gault at the pass. It’s refreshing to see a chef at the head of a large hospitality business still working on the tools in opening week.
Still, opening week it was and you’d be caught by surprise if there wasn’t something to raise an eyebrow at. The crabpots are open to the main dining floor and certainly seemed to be providing a steamy tropical heat and smoke of their own. There was only one dish to get waylaid on its way to us however, and the suitably apologetic waiter ensured the correct order was quickly delivered. Between us, we managed Gault’s iconic manuka rewana bread, a revelation for carb-loading days. The Jonah crab, Atlantic Golden crab pots and tuatua fritters were the popular choices on the day. I enjoyed the charred and thinly sliced pineapple that added sweetness and acidity to the lemongrass and chili of my golden crab. One pot between two was ample and the sheer job of cracking, sucking and teasing sweet, delicate crab meat from claws delights my inner child.
While we saw a few burgers and fries leaving the kitchen, we were generally impressed to see the populus at large donning white bibs and tucking in to work hard for their dinner.
Verdict: A few little corners to tidy up but the friendly staff and service ensured nary a bump was felt. Delicious crab worth the calories expended to enjoy it. We split the bill at $250 for 4pax, including plenty of drink rounds.