Curious to find out if this was a hidden dazzler sitting nonchalantly on the deck fronting Whakatane's estuary,I made reservations for dinner with a plateful of moderately high hopes.Wharf Shed takes its name seriously -a porthole is set into its main door, slats of polished wood form the floor,walls and ceiling while decor consists of familiar maritime memorabilia.The walls have framed pictures of many-sailed multi-masted ships negotiating choppy sea (fighting the tide of mediocrity?) Affairs were commenced with a entree of Scallops. These turned out to be small chunks -lacking both a delicious sear and luscious interior, their taste further undermined by the funk from the adjoined coral. The eventual enticer here was the berry vinaigrette which accorded sweetly bracing anointment to the salad with additional interest springing from thin slices of grilled apple and briny dried tomatoes.

A Sauvignon Blanc -The Ned from Marlborough - qualified as an excellently polished complement, well-suited to those who like their potions swirling on a lighter note. Next- Thai marinated medallions of oven-roasted,cold-sliced Pork - these were soft and hearty but were devoid of moist brio and complex savouriness.Coriander-scented crisp noodles turned out to be plain squiggles of fried flour.Not content with the creamy appeal of aoli with cashewnuts,I asked the girl who came to clear the dish, what exactly the purported Thai condiments were. After consulting the chef,she came back and replied,"Brown sugar....and red wine?" uncertainly as if losing faith in her own answer even as she uttered it.

Service, especially by the hostess who attended to my meal, was polite and often agreeably solicitous, but as the patrons increased in number my table was left unattended for liberal waves of time. The tariffs here are reasonable -my meal with 4 dishes and a glass of wine cost NZ$ 87.

For the mains, their vegetarian options include creations like a Samosa Parcel with feta,walnut and aioli. The advertized fish of the day -Tarakihi and Gurnard, with potato mash and a light curried sauce came across as a solid choice but the menu cover-blazoned proclamation of the Award of Excellence in Beef and Lamb for 2006-2010 induced me to try Lamb Tenderloin. It wasn't true to its name's enticing connotation, and was too gamey for my taste.Where I expected a silent roar of rapture,there only issued a bleat of disappointment. About the associates- spinach timbale slid easily down the gullet,but the tamarillo jus and potato-cream-bacon were of the sort that would not inspire cartwheels of self-congratulation were I to rustle up creations of similar caliber myself. This was the third successive dish topped by finely cut lacy beetroot- not only did this detract from the visual impact of the featured ingredients but also showed lack of imagination implicit in planting default garnishes.

Dessert- Creme Brulee- This was flanked by whipped cream,chocolate wafer and slices of semi-ripe papaya & pineapple ( it had been spared that constant crown of beetroot) A firm jab with the spoon broke the torched crust -its powdered sugar and crisp shards contrasted well with the caramel custard beneath.'Twas a vaguely conciliatory finale to the meal.

I arose ,neither gutted or stoked, gazing at the rouge haze cast at the center of the room by the cluster of multicolour lights directly above- and sighing that at that juncture,it'd perhaps take a burlesque show by some Hellenic beauty in order for me to regard the place in a superior light.The evening ,nevertheless,ended with a cordial farewell by my hostess. It was felt,on balance, that one may consider docking at Wharf Shed in search of serviceable food with a decent wine list, while being fully forewarned that its kitchen's levee is safe from a tsunami of culinary revelations.

UPN EarnesTaster

UPNWORLD welcomes your comments.