When is the best time to open a new bar/restaurant? Well in to the low season so you have plenty of time to iron out systems and start off gently with passing local trade? Early in peak season so you have guaranteed foot-fall to ease you in but keep you on your toes with some solid practice? Or, perhaps, open 2 days after Christmas just as the sun is in the sky, there ain’t a cloud in sight, and summer is reaching peak busy? In at the deep end.
The fearless owners of the Boathouse chose the latter option, which seems like rolling one too many dice in the black waters of 2016. Fortunately, these people know what they’re doing on an operational level because they’ve also previously been involved with several food and drink-based businesses on Waiheke. So, they should know how to hit the ground running.
But, when it comes to running down 4th Avenue, where the sun usually shines so brightly, this prime piece of seafront real estate hasn’t had an overly steady year. This seemingly troublesome spot gazing on to Onetangi beach has changed names three times since the ever-popular Charlie Farley’s up the road changed out of its jandals and back into its winter trousers*. Passing on like the famous faces of 2016, the locals waved goodbye to 4th Avenue and, just months later, they bade Sand Shack a fond farewell. Next!
Outwardly, aside from the name and a spruce up, not much has changed, though the owners may beg to differ. Visiting on opening day the place was rammed to its plentiful gills and the staff were like fast-moving ducks – you could see them moving but, apart from in a clear stretch of water, you couldn’t see their feet furiously twirling underneath. We saw the twirls only a couple of times. Managing expectations, we were swiftly told “food will be 45 minutes”. Fine. If you’re told that in advance, you’re not going to get as gloomy when it turns out to be true. As it happens, it was more or less 45 minutes but that was fine while the sun was out.
Prior to opening the menu was billed as something slightly different for the island. More seafood, more simplicity. It’s a fair punt and they look to have pulled off this subtle but welcome trick, if the menu’s anything to go by. It’s somewhere between the hearty fayre you get at Charley’s or Cove but not as light and haute as the equally fish-themed Oyster Inn. So, now it sits nicely in the gap between the functionality of burgers and batter and the ostentatiousness of pan-fried fillets and unctuous reductions – and that’s what the island needed from its bars, especially ones near beaches.
Yes, there is fish and chips but the choice of battered or pan-fried is a nice, surprisingly uncommon, touch. Yes, there is also a burger but there’s no point cutting off your nose to spite your face, these things sell. BUT … there are mostly fresh things of the sea: oysters, pots of prawns, pots of squid, mussels, seared tuna, three salads, a handful of pizzas, two platters and a selection of vegetarian dishes.
The seafood platter seemed a prescient place to start, given it consisted of several things on the menu: the bucket of prawns, some oysters, a big handful of calamari strips, half a dozen battered fillets of fish (gurnard, we thought) and a seared loin of tuna – all perched on a mound of rocket and served with a couple of dips. And for this spread you were asked to hand over 55 crisp New Zealand dollars. Value? We’ll see.
The oysters were Te Matuku, local. You’ll have no trouble there, they’re awesome, even if pretty much every decent establishment on the island sells them. The prawns were excellent, it’s easy to over cook the little pink beasts but these were so cooked-to-perfection with a subtle sprinkling of jammy, chilli marinade that they were still grand 20 minutes later at the bottom of the bucket. Oh yeah … TWELVE  of them! About twice as many as we thought there would be. The calamari was similarly cooked to perfection in a thin, light, umami seeded batter. The tuna could have done with a tad more seasoning but seared faultlessly with a seam of raw red fish running through the middle. The battered fish was the only par element, the batter was heavy (though very tasty) and the fish was robust, the combination of which was a little stodgy when everything else was so zingy. The mayo dip was good and the chilli one delivered some oomph even when sparingly dipped.
In short, a top notch platter that will easily satisfy two people. Two minor quibbles would be: the fish, might have been better battered in something brighter and lighter and; the dip pots were a bit small for this size of grazing slab.
The drink selection is a bit mixed, mind. The ubiquitous Montieths selection was expected but still exasperating, as is the persistently baffling addition of Heineken. Why is this tasteless drink so popular? If you’re going to do generic tasteless lager at least make it a Kiwi one. Also, only one local ale, Wild’s Baroona Pale, but there was a nice surprise in the previously unseen local Alibi Pilsner, from Tantalus Vineyard’s estate brewer. But the wine list is good, very local with some good budget to mid-priced wines. The paucity of by-the-glass options might be something that punters might find restricting, though.
Local opinion seems to be that the menu is a welcome addition, particularly this end of the island. The tourists might take a little longer to convince, given the piles of fish and chips streaming like lemming out of the kitchen.
Try the Waiheke shandy if it’s baking hot, half Baroona Pale Ale and half Hauraki Ginger Beer in a pint. We had to wait for ours, they ran out of ginger beer and had to drive up to Wild on Waiheke to fetch more. What about that for service? It was worth the wait too, refreshing but leaves a tingle on your tongue. A big thumbs up … but, Charley Farley’s is still good and it’s still on a less traffic-y corner of the Strand. This small thing cannot be underestimated as a pull.
So, Mr Boathouse, welcome to the lunchtime race, once again we have two great Onetangi beachfront choices, one for lunch and one for dinner, which means you’ll never have to stray far from the beach and can stay all day.
The Boathouse is so new it doesn’t really have a web-presence yet, not even their nascent Facebook page – but it’s at 1 Fourth Avenue, Onetangi, Auckland 1081, New Zealand.
*Some artistic licence has been used in the timings here!
**Thanks to ELO for the lines.