Thursday, 04 February 2010 19:06
Dominion Post- Indulgence. 26th December 2009
Review by David Burton
A new eatery kitted out with a faux bohemian history, is actually a classy hangout for lawyers in suits.
Ortega fish shack ought by rights, to have existed for generations, renowned the world over as a hangout for hobo yachties and rag-tailed seafarers.
If any of them managed to stray this far from Wellingtons waterfront, they would probably see the “Gaugin” on the stairs and believe the legend that it depicts the original Ortega Fish Shack on the remote “Isla de Pez” off Venezuela, opened by the son of a renegade French émigré, who was forced to flee after having seduced a lady of the royal court.
Isn’t this already sounding suspiciously similar to the Duke Carvell hoax, perpetrated by those naughty Bresolin Brothers in Swan Lane?
The wall plaque continues: “In 1936, Hermann Goring travelled sectretly to Isla de Pez on a chartered Deutche [sic] Lufthansa plane”.
But the typical Ortega clientele is, I can assure you, infinitely respectable. It is besuited lawyers and merchants-not bohemiens- who scull the Cuban rum at the bar inside the fish shack. They stand beneath the row of Japanese fishing floats, while shouting to each other about money. This is Mt Victoria after all.
And far from having been around for generations, Ortega opened just the other week. To be sure, serious dosh has been spent on manicuring the shack to look as though it has survived a few tropical tornadoes.
The ceiling undulates with waves of slatted wood, curving like a clinker built dinghy: a motley collection of faded seafaring prints partially covers the distressed paint effects on the walls, and the floor is a faded patchwork of antique Egyptian tiles. In its own, shabby chic way, it is magnificent.
Ortega is non other than the former Café Bastille, bought back by founder Mark Limacher earlier this year.
Partners in Mark’s new venture are his daughter Anna Limacher, who worked here when it was Bastille, and her partner, Davey McDonald, former manager of Bastille and more recently, wine-industry toiler. Davey is the one to ask about which wine to drink with which dish, although both Anna and he have excellent menu knowledge.
Head chef Peter Collins also returns to the fray for another tour of duty, having been head chef at Bastille in 2005, when it won Cuisine magazine’s Restaurant of the Year award.
In the intervening years, Collins has been on sabatical at Kapiti Cheese and Kaimai Cheese, which explains why Ortega offers probably the best cheeseboard in town. It wasn’t so much the number of cheeses on the board (seven) as much as the perfect condition of each and every one. The Normandy camembert oozed, but did not run; the unpasteurised Roquefort was melting but not stinky.
Everything we ate that evening was touched with the same perfection.
Duck-liver pate was a statement of total minimalism: just a small, perfectly formed rectangle and a tiny mound of apricot chutney.
Both the snapper and the gurnard were glisteningly fresh, cooked lightly and still springy.
The snapper was served over the most divine crayfish butter (another hint that Ortega is Café Bastille reborn), while the whole fillet of gurnard (tweezered of every last bone) came with soured beetroot and orange to cut the creamy richness of the flesh.
Catalan crepes with orange sauce and vanilla icecream ended the meal as tastily as it had begun: thin crepes, eggy rather than stodgy and floury, came in a caramelised orange sauce, and as far as I was concerned, the dish was a delightful rendition of crepe suzette.
So why Catalan crepes?
Ah, I’ve got it.
Goring must have secretly slipped this recipe to Ortega in 1936, as a gift from his old mate, General Franco.