Walk into Simon Gault's seafood eatery The Crab Shack on Princes Wharf and you may be forgiven for mistaking that you've just been freshly washed up ashore along with the rest of the day's meals, or perhaps that you're in the hull of the actual fishing boat itself. The roof is lined with decorative nets, the nautical lights hang long and the Pacific ocean neighbouring the newly established restaurant gives it the ultimate authenticity stamp.
Not that you'll have too much time studying the decor before a broad smile directs you to your seat, and food and drinks start to almost instantly appear by your side. We're not really quite sure what the HR policy at The Crab Shack is, but it seems like there's a prerequisite to be Brazillian and very friendly to work there.
Crab Shack's drinks menu looks like something from an island tiki bar: Caipirinha, Pina Colada, Daiquiri and Blue Lagoon and other mostly easily recognisable names form part of the set of beach classics. As we did get caught in the rain while running over to Crab Shack, we felt morally obliged to have Pina Coladas (cue tune) - although we ended up ordering the special Crab Shack strawberry variation of the classic, the Lava Flow. Creamy, delicious, and served with a cute little umbrella (always a great addition to any drink) - although the favourite of the day had to be what followed: the Mai Thai. According to our bartender, the recipe was stolen from a five-star hotel in Hawaii which had laid claim to making the best Mai Thais in North America. We have no way of verifying this fact, but we could easily believe it. Strong, with just the right amount of lime bite, it was just perfect. Rum is your friend (always), but don't think it's something to try while out on a business lunch. You will not have a productive afternoon, I personally guarantee you this.
On to the food. Set up as sharing platters, the food arrives when it pleases and leaves when you're done with it, creating a nice grazing and communal atmosphere. Getting started with some starters we sampled the Manuka smoked bread, with a side of the mysterious 'Shack butter' and a bit of mustard powder. Perfect as a little snack alongside your drink or just a starter. Next we were treated to Tuatua fritters (served with corn, pecorino and japapeno creme fraiche), and some crab and crayfish cakes with pacific island coconut onion. These were guzzled down without much thought except about how delicious they were and whether there could be some way of arranging a bottomless serving of them.
For our main we ordered crab (figuring that since we were at The Crab Shack it would be rude not to), and soon enough one-kilogram's worth of Nelson paddle crab doused in chilli-garlic butter found itself in front of us. We were given a polite disclaimer that things were going to get "messy", appropriate bibs and a small washing pail graciously offered to minimise collateral damage. Surprisingly, as we cracked legs open and hacked at the oh-so-friggen-soft crab (Simon, you're a magician), the bibs remained spotless. As with all garlic dishes, the fear of becoming a vampire deterrent for the month following was present, but satisfactorily did not come to pass. The garlic didn't assault the tastebuds, but rather just gentle introduced itself and moved on, letting the freshness of the crab do most of the talking.
Pair off the crab with a Karaka garden salad (a nice mixture of chunky Tomino soft cheese, walnuts, cucumbers, roasted peppers, tomatoes and onions) and you have yourself a lunch, my friend. Actually, the garden salad is good enough and big enough to have on its own, for those vegetarians reading.
Follow matters with a Salted Caramel Jar for dessert (go on). It's rich, it's punchy - thanks to the coffee mousse, and just the right size to keep you satisfied, but not overwhelmed. We can't quite say the same for the coconut creme brûlée, which was just that tad overcooked and paid the price in texture, which was a real shame and the only downside to an otherwise perfect afternoon.