Pacifica, ensconced in Napier, far away from highly rated brethren in Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown, is a unique example. From individual punters to Cuisine magazine, it is spoken of in hushed tones as a restaurant in the national top-tier, serving curated cuisine by chef owner Jeremy Rameka in an unlikely neck of the woods, next to the black sand beach where the Pacific Ocean runs in a long impressive expanse alongside Napier.  
 For a restaurant that is aware of its reputation, Pacifica's habitus is almost commendable for its audacious modesty. A little blue washed house that could pass for a shack, a fish and chips shop, the place can easily be walked or driven past without noticing. 
Inside, the decor is minimalist, with none of the fine-dining frippery - you'll think you're in just another cafe. The brown paneled ceiling is more interesting than the regulation carpet. The patrons are similarly relaxed and are mostly dressed casually as if they've just come off the beach promenade. 
Service is competent and what I found remarkable that evening was that the floor was managed by only two ladies who did a fine job keeping the place operational. Functionality should not be underestimated but great restaurants need great service personality - which most NZ restaurateurs, including this one, do not understand. 
Pacifica offers a six course degustation menu only, with no a la carte or vegetarian-only option. Prices are very reasonable for the experience. 
  The first course was the best of the entire evening and unfortunately in the context and quality of this meal, that's not saying much. Tender crayfish tail jousted with the sharp umami of a slick miso custard, with the dark hues of a soy and dashi blend essaying a perky broth. I'm eternally blown away by the transcendental movie 'Babette's Feast', but would not have the guts to eat the darkly colored turtle soup in its iconic repast - but a larger bowl of Pacifica's first course would suffice for me as the equivalent of top tier turtle soup. 
Alain Passard would have smiled at the second course - a stuffed braised onion in a 'sabayon' sauce. Many chefs would not care to honour the onion like this. Kumara butter hid at the bottom, sporadically issuing its toasted notes past a white wine sabayon that was more technically competent than it was tasty. The onion was braised into successful softness, but its stuffing of mozzarella, thyme and truffle paste was mostly a phantom. 
Another construct of current day haute cuisine  -  a glossy thin circular sheet of pasta, black by cooking in squid ink, covered paua which was blanketed by pleasantly spiced coconut cream. The paua was indistinct (which was no surprise - most chefs have no clue how to elevate the taste of this NZ abalone/sea snail). More disappointing was the monkfish which sat on top but did not deserve its position - a tiny circular piece shallow-fried to shallow effect. 
I abjured red meat many moons ago - not to make the lives of degustation chefs miserable, but to spare more animals. The pork substitute for me was a pathetic attempt - mushrooms (barely cooked) thrown in with strictly average cockles, with the soy-dashi blend from the first course making a dreary unsuccessful comeback. It was the most un-imaginative, mediocre assemblage - the only one feeling happy would have been the spared pig. 
Guess what - I spared the venison too, for the next and last savoury course. In its place, what got speared was another bottom grazer - flounder. Clarified butter (perhaps a nod from the chef to my heritage) lay underneath a disc of pleasant mashed potato, crowned by two small pieces of flounder, excellent in moist succulent texture but the taste of which you'll hardly remember an hour later. This was a dish which can be banged out by a thousand trattoria chefs from Napier to Naples. 
The dessert, which took a while to arrive, bore sad evidence of why it may have been reluctant to leave the kitchen. Small quenelles of chocolate mousse, anemic in flavour, sat atop limp cheescake base with passable banana cream. The whole thing was almost lukewarm, rather than being a chilled bracing refresher.
Regretfully, this was one of the least impressive haute cuisine experiences over the last dozen years in New Zealand. 
The bill for this 6 course meal was a very reasonable $105, which would be less than the cost of a single appetizer in a top Parisian place.
 There is a good range of reasonably priced wines. This may be the only haute cuisine place in NZ which features masala chai on its drinks menu. 
Especially post the financial ravages of the pandemic, I have no intention of knocking down a putatively ambitious place in the 'semi-provinces', but surely this is a far shot from being the best of Hawke's Bay. In multiple dishes, one got the feeling there was no concerted drive for excellence, rather what met the palate were some fanciful brush-strokes pretending to be nouvelle cuisine. Did I just catch them on a very bad day ? Possibly.  
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