Bad taste, good food at Soi

DAVE BURTON
Last updated 05:00 20/10/2012
Soi
FAIRFAX

ROOM WITH A VIEW: Soi sells itself on having some of the best harbour views in Wellington.

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Once you've built your restaurant on stilts out over the water, how do you then go about cleaning the windows on the sheer face you can't access from a veranda?

I must say I'd never thought about this problem before at Soi restaurant, or when it was Eden, or The Pier before that.

But it did rather confront my guest and me I on Thursday night last, when we were shown to our romantic table for two beside the window.

It being 7.30pm, Evans Bay was bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun.

Only in this instance the gold was tinted old gold by the streaky brown film of dried salt and dust covering the plate glass windows.

Random spatterings of dried seagull cack arched from floor to ceiling, in the manner of Jackson Pollock.

As I sat down, I recoiled in horror and confusion.

I mean, isn't this restaurant supposed to be selling itself on its harbour views? (That's always what has kept me coming here, at least.)

About five years ago, when Soi took over from Eden, the interior underwent a major refurb.

By taking out the ships' railings and carpeting over the fancy yacht decking, the dated eighties nautical look has been erased.

But still they haven't removed the cheesiest of all the fittings - the disco ceiling. This giant horseshoe of slatted mirrors ought to be placed on a register with the Historic Places Trust.

While they're at it, they might also register the menu.

Ah, Caesar Salad! I haven't seen that for a good few years. Mmmm, seafood chowder, chicken satay, beer-battered fish and chips! I believe I may have spotted these dishes elsewhere as well.

Yet despite wanting to hate this food for being so hackneyed, right from the outset I was forced to admit that competent cooking was coming to its rescue.

We ordered the Soi tasting plate to share, on account of it offering four out of the six entrees.

The battered squid was deliciously tender, the pot sticker dumplings up to Chinese restaurant standard, the satay perfectly respectable and the arancini actually very, very good.

''Crispy'' skinned pork belly, for once, really was crisp all over, not just in parts, its fat well rendered, its flesh moist and tasty.

As I tasted the honest beef jus beneath my steak and the lemony, herby Cafe de Paris butter on top, not to mention the lovely crisp, hand-cut fries, my mood lifted - aided greatly, I must say, by the descent of darkness, which masked the filthy windows and set the harbour lights shimmering across the water.

It was also helped by the fact that my 250-gram prime aged Angus beef was perfectly cooked: very rare without being blue, just as I had discussed very carefully with Tania Siladi, the friendly co-owner who had come to take our main course order.

''Excuse me for asking,'' she'd begun, ''but are you David Burton?''

Yes, I was.

''It should really be home time for me now,'' she went on to explain, ''but my waiting staff are so terrified of you that I'm having to stay on and serve you myself.''

Hell, I'd have ordered them to get a grip, keep calm and carry on. There's no reason to begin quivering just because the odd Obersturmbannfuhrer happens to pop out of nowhere, discreetly taking notes.

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Apparently Ms Tiladi Siladi did subsequently issue such an order, for eventually our truant waitron reappeared to inquire about dessert.

Having failed to clear the mess of spilled rocket leaves, vinaigrette and spent endamame pods on the table in front of me, she gingerly laid the dessert menu down alongside the pile, on the one clean spot at the very edge of the table.

Were the desserts, we wondered, to be served still further to the left, beside the table, in mid-air?

Talking with Ms Siladi Taniaas, I paid the bill; I cleared the mystery of the chef. It is he, the esteemed Jonathan England, late of The Eating House and Miramar's legendary Two Rooms.

ONE THING YOU SHOULD TRY

Trio of Mini Pavlovas
Here's a very pleasing elaboration of our national dish. I forgot to inquire about the flavours du jour, as the menu advised, but these bonsai pavs were self-evidently coconut, chocolate and vanilla - all baked the deliciously chewy way I like best.

THE DETAILS

305 Evans Bay Pde (Greta Pt Wharf)
Ph: 386 3830
Fully licensed
Open Tue-Fri from 12 noon, Sat and Sun from 11am
Price range of mains: $19-$33
Food: 4/5
Service: 3/5
Ambience: 3/5
Wine list: 3/5
Cost: $122 for two (excluding wine)

- Your Weekend

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