Wednesday, 12 May 2010 09:03
Cuisine Magazine - March 2010
Review by David Burton
Just as corporate executives ride Harley-Davidsons at the weekend to prove they are colourful and rebellious at heart, so they seem to revel in the illusion of louche bohemianism when they dine out.
Hence the well-heeled crowds descending on the wittily shabby-chic Ortega Fish Shack Bar, enjoying in a casual, off-duty way the same sort of nosh for which they would be milking their company account big time at an uptight fine-dining temple.
Although the “shack” opened only just before Christmas, designer Libby Beattie and architect Alan Bulleyment have created the semblance of a timeworn bohemian beachcomber café, run by several generations of rough diamonds: you are even led down the garden path by a tall story to this effect (“Why Ortega?”) posted both on their website and on the wall on the stairs leading up to the loos.
The first few paragraphs of “Why Ortega?” seem quite credible; only later do you recognise it as an amusing hoax. So I had to smile when a woman at a nearby table returned from the loo and solemnly began to bore her friends with aspects of the “history”.
While there is a mariners’ shrine next to the bar, Japanese fishing floats suspended overhead and faded maritime memorabilia hung higgledy-piggledy over the walls, you can’t alter the basic geographic fact of Ortega being not in some dodgy corner of the waterfront, but at the heart of bourgeois Mount Victoria. Accordingly, the customers are not artists, smugglers, sailors and coastal hostesses, but solicitors, wine merchants and business magnates – not to mention a hefty cross-section of the hospitality industry, here to check out the reincarnated Café Bastille.
Chef-patron Mark Limacher bought back and revamped his old business and is now in partnership with his wife, Helen, his daughter, Anna, and her partner, Davey McDonald, who is the sommelier.
Anna and Davey look after the front of house, just as they did in the old days, while Peter Collins, erstwhile head chef of Café Bastille, has been brought back into the kitchen. This explains the familiar
flashes of brilliance in the current repertoire, such as the duck liver pâté and the sirloin with Café de Paris butter (whose 18 ingredients have never been fully disclosed).
The big departure for Ortega is the focus on seafood and fish, all of it spanking fresh. Tiddler crabs are bought cheaply, roasted whole in the oven, then crushed, simmered in fish stock and reduced with garlic, saffron and Pernod into the tastiest, most concentrated crab broth you could
experience. I couldn’t cope with any more than the small bowl offered. It was partnered with a delicious smoked mussel fritter, topped with golden pearls of salmon roe. Warehou, normally considered a second-rate species, is here meaty, moist and flavoursome – a testament to careful cooking. It’s vital,
Collins says, not to overcook warehou and dry it out, as chefs routinely do. This creamy warehou and its bland pappardelle were perfect foils for the salsina – minced sundried-tomato paste, spiked with capers and anchovy and tasting really rather terrific.
The big-eye tuna, from Fiji, I probably ought not to have eaten (just like thatferal fruit bat and coconut crab in Vanuatu), but in the event my staunch conservationist friend and I both sinned: he partnered raw slivers of tuna with salmon, topped with avocado to soften a generous puddle of tangy tamari lime dressing. I had my tuna briefly seared and fanned over a classic salade Niçoise, zig-zagged with an egg-free olive oil emulsion.
We finished with a perfect mousse au chocolat, luxuriously capped with chocolate ganache.
As the consistently full houses here at Son of Bastille will testify, in the capital right now,
you won’t dine better.