July 18, 2008

Seaside Dining That Rocks

By WALKER, Janie

Strong on flavour and on the beach - this Waikanae eatery found a fan in Janie Walker.


RESTAURANTS by the sea on a cold night are special: inside, diners are cosy, yet waves can be heard from outside. Diners also know they can walk off a few calories afterwards and experience the beach.

Rock Salt Bistro on Waikanae Beach is subtle on decor but its menu certainly isn't shy. The flavours are strong and the combinations interesting. It could easily be redrafted into literature with descriptions such as "lightly pounded chicken thighs", "lime suspended on greens", and "T-bone steak sloped upon fried potatoes".

Uniquely, if diners don't like the wine they ordered, host and co- owner Stefan Rigg says he'll drink it for them. His service philosophy includes ensuring staff know the menu well and understand that it is special for people to leave their homes to eat out. It's a bonus having a waiter who is the owner; you see the pride in the restaurant which makes you appreciate what's being dished up.

My partner and I chose a bottle of Summerhouse Sauvignon Blanc 2007 and were told it's a really great fruity sauvignon blanc.

For my entree I had grilled halloumi cheese "perched upon caponata and wilted spinach stack finished with a homemade lemon mayonnaise". There's something scrummy about fried halloumi cheese. My partner chose something he knew I didn't like so he could have it all to himself - lambs fry and bacon with a kumara cake and Dubonnet and orange sauce (a perfect bloke's entree).

Hungry people should stop reading now. For mains we had the fish and the lamb. Again the fish wasn't shy, smothered in cajun pepper - only for the brave - and served on a potato galette with apple slaw and cider butter sauce. The lamb was roasted and stuffed with tomato and fig.

For dessert we shared the white chocolate cheesecake and "passionfruit spiked" creme brulee.

We met the chef - 20-year-old Luke Glen, who "keeps it simple and fresh" and obviously loves his work.

There's a play room adjacent to the main dining room to keep the kids amused, because according to Mr Rigg "if the kids are happy, the adults are happy". Upstairs is another dining area (check out the very cool ceiling lights), with a small private space.

Rock Salt Bistro is open Tuesday to Sunday, 9.30am till late (closed 4.30pm Tuesdays).

It is fully licensed and caters for private functions. Bookings preferred. Phone (04) 902 9033.


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