Place: The second home of Simon Gault's 'bibs and fingers' seafood restaurant, The Crab Shack, is nestled among the boats and buildings of Princes Wharf, Auckland.
People: The restaurant is the brainchild of MasterChef New Zealand judge, prolific restaurateur and chef personality, Simon Gault. While you'd be lucky to spot him in the restaurant, a cheerful team of knowledgable and informal staff work the floor at Auckland's Crab Shack.
On the menu: A colleague recently asked where he should take two children under ten for dinner, and it was hard to think of exciting suitable Auckland restaurants. The Crab Shack is the perfect solution - you can unleash your inner-child by adorning a disposabe bib and getting hands-on with a crustacean, whilst your children can judge your messiness as they eat neatly from the Kids Menu.
On our visit, we were drawn to the Nelson Paddle Crab, excited to try a sustainable New Zealand seafood delicacy. It was mighty tough to crack, and whilst we were given ample equipment - a bowl with lemon for hand-dipping, one for discarding shell pieces and another containing what looked like a nut cracker and a metal rod you might see at the dentist - our ignorance was plain. Kindly, staff stopped by offering guidance 'Crack it with your hands and suck the meat from the legs!' 'Be prepared to splash!' 'Dip the meat in the sauce!'. Our efforts were rewarded when we struck upon the occasional substantial piece of crab meat gold and voraciously drowned it in garlic chilli butter.
It would be easy to misconstrue the menu as pub food, but there are unique Kiwi touches like rewena paraoa (spelt out phonetically on the menu), which is a traditional Maori bread topped with sticky butter, tapenade and pork crackling. Fresh herbs and expert seasoning bring to life lamb rumps, steak, burgers and pork belly salads.
In the glass: A fairly standard selection of beers and wine alongside a creative cocktail menu.
Decor: The Auckland building has less innate charm than its Wellington heritage boat shed cousin, with a slightly dated glass atrium constituting half the interior, which reflects the weather with brutal honesty. On a grey day (like our visit), the Cape Cod aesthetic of reclaimed fishing nets, glass buoys and jars make it feel more like a blustery boat trip out to the English North Sea than an expedition on the Atlantic.
Food is presented on now-ubiquitous wooden boards and enamel plates, with beers served in jars - an aesthetic that's far from original, but does a good job of providing instant recognition that this isn't somewhere that takes itself too seriously.
Go tomorrow: For a family gathering, a quick after-work/pre-theatre meal, or on any day of the week to be guaranteed a special saving thanks to The Crab Shack's daily deals. And of course, go if you like crab - at just $40 for 1 kilo, this is an affordable place to eat well-prepared seafood.
Open: 11.30am-late, 7 days a week.
Address: Princes Wharf, Auckland, 1011