As a venue, No 1 Waimea Rd is best remembered as Marty's - Martin Bosley's satellite cafe at Waikanae Beach.
After Marty's, the place languished under a succession of beachcomber names like Salt, Drift and Rot. Now, however, the decay has been reversed by new owners Blair Nicholl and Michele Passarello.
Made over and relaunched as Waimea, the upstairs dining room maintains the beachcomber theme with a mouldering wooden telephone pole, its wires whimsically strung with roses in glass bottles.
Encouraging us to ascend the stairs, Nicholl promised our effort would be well rewarded, and so it was: big picture windows revealed a sparklingly clear panorama across the sand dunes to Kapiti Island.
There could be worse views to sit and contemplate in one's dotage. For if Waikanae is God's waiting room, then these seats surely occupy the dress circle.
But only on a perfectly sunny, windless day like this, mind you.
During my one and only lunch at Marty's, a mother of all southerlies had been howling, and despite having booked well in advance, we'd been seated downstairs at the worst table in the house, next to the front door. The first time that door got opened, the wind knocked over a wine glass and bore our menus aloft. Then a particularly vicious gust coincided with the delivery of our rocket salad, lifting the stack of leaves into the air and showering us with tiny spinning propellers.
Wisely, that front entrance has since been swung around from the south and now faces west.
In recognition of Waikanae's demographic - retirees on reduced incomes plus mortgage-laden breeders with little disposable salary - a welcome is extended even to those who can only afford coffee and patisserie, even though Waimea is really about staying on for lunch or dinner and enjoying Passarello's modern approach to his heritage of Sicilian cooking.
Upon seating, we followed Nicholl's recommendation for Tuatara Pilsner as a beer to go with our antipasti. Hoppy and bitter, it cut the fattiness of the lardo (One Thing You Should Try) and the saltiness of big emerald green Sicilian olives, quality kalamatas, sun-dried tomato slices and plump capers from the bud's spiritual home, the island of Pantelleria.
The food here is refined, nouvelle cuisine-influenced Italian, with beautiful presentations and refined flavours, such as a dark, heavily reduced bisque which is spooned over the Waimea crab ravioli.
It's called Waimea crab to distinguish this product from the established supplier, Crab Meat Waikanae: the cafe has its very own fisherman now working the seabed.
This freshness alone made the crab inside our ravioli so sweet and tasty. What's more, it was pure crabmeat, for once un- muddied with breadcrumbs and spices.
The pasta sheet, made by Roberto Giorgioni at Bongusto in Miramar, was thin and resiliently al dente.
Octopus carpaccio was equally sensational. Sicilians famously know how to prepare octopus and this was very tender. What's more, it was beautifully presented, the same way as we saw Michel Roux Jnr do on Food TV recently - shaved into wafer-thin cross-sections as for beef carpaccio.
Dare I say it, with its line of potato and caper salad, cross sections of black olive and the yellow and red dots of dressing, it looked even prettier than Michel Roux's stack.
Mains were free range egg tagliatelle (with tomato, sun-dried tomato, garlic, olives, toasted pine nuts and ricotta) and Merlot braised beef short ribs, organic brown lentils and sauteed kale.
After the first mouthful of beef, my guest Ricardo drew his pinched thumb and forefingers across his chest in the motion of a tailor pulling the final thread on a garment - the Italian gesture for bravo.
ONE THING YOU SHOULD TRY
Cured lard crostini: In recent years, the cured pig's fat known as lardo has sent the chefs of New York into raptures, being the very latest in peasant- chic. It's imported from Italy, where slabs of back fat are placed in marble tubs and left to marinate for nine months in a slurry of salt, garlic, rosemary, oregano, pepper, cloves and cinnamon. At Waimea, the slab is sliced wafer-thin to order, then folded over crostini. To fully appreciate it, you need to keep the lardo in your mouth long enough to let it melt.
1 Waimea Rd, Waikanae Beach
Ph: 04 293 4240
Open for lunch and dinner
Price range of mains: $18.50-$29.50
Drinks list: ****
Cost: $93 for two (excluding beer & wine)
- © Fairfax NZ News