Alice’s restaurant review: The Wharf Cafe Bar and Restaurant

Reviewed by Alice Letts

Inside WharfEven though I lived in New Zealand I had never managed to get up to Gisborne.  It wasn’t until my Aunt and Uncle moved to Gisborne that I decided to go and visit them.  It took me a few years, but eventually I made it! 

I heard from friends that Gisborne is the number one spot for celebrating the New Year.  Gisborne was also reported to be the first place in New Zealand, if not the world, to welcome in the new millennium.  There is a long wall by the sea with plaques containing the names of people who witnessed the new millennium from Gisborne.  The council charged people a very small fee of only $40 NZD to have their name on that wall.  I was amazed to discover just how big the city centre is.  For some reason I had always imagined Gisborne to be a small town.  However, the impressive quality and number of shops and services proves otherwise.  For more information on Gisborne you may like to visit the website

My parents accompanied my husband and I on our trip to visit my Aunt, Uncle, and 9 month old Nephew.  I was starving, and had managed to convince our group to leave the house promptly, so that we arrived a little early for our 6pm reservation.  The restaurant was completely empty, so we settled into our long table beside the glass French doors. 

The Wharf Cafe, Bar and Restaurant is located on the Marina, in the historic No.1 shed.  We were pleasantly surprised by the beautiful view from the restaurant.  It was barely daylight, so while the family looked through their menus my husband and I disappeared outside for a few minutes to take photos.  Gisborne has a lot of forestry and farming nearby, and outside in the marine was a large boat from Japan to transport logs.


I can definitely say that the Wharf is child friendly.  The maître d’ anticipated our needs and kindly brought over a high chair for Daniel.  We were very grateful to him for his thoughtfulness when he came over with a box of goodies to entertain Daniel.  Inside the box was a collection of colourful building blocks, children’s books and toys.  We didn’t order anything for Daniel, so the maître d’ brought over some complimentary French bread for Daniel to chew.  After our food arrived, the kitchen staff were also happy to warm up Daniel’s milk for him.

The background music was just that.  It faded into the background and did not interfere with our conversation and fun.  It wasn’t until after we had been in the restaurant for around an hour that I realised there was music playing.  I recognised the female singer as Diana Krall, who just happens to be one of my most favourite singers.  Jazz music is one of my favourites and so I was immediately impressed with the selection.


I expect you are wondering what the food is like?  Well, the food was exemplary and matched the high standards of the restaurant interiors.  The prices were in the early 30’s for a main dish, that was very reasonable given the quality and presentation of the food.  My father thoroughly enjoyed his duck confit, commenting that it had been decades since he had last eaten duck.  The duck was accompanied by Rillette, Lyonnaise Potatoes, Red Cabbage, Hazelnut Compote, Roquette, and Jus.  My Mother’s favourite dish has always been Salmon, and so it was no surprise when she ordered the Roasted Salmon Fillet.  The Salmon was served with Olive Mash, Broad Bean and Mango Salsa, Beetroot Puree, and Crayfish Oil.  The salmon proved a popular dish on our table, as my Aunt and Uncle also chose the salmon.  I heard very good comments on the salmon, so it seems it went down well.  However, I did feel that the Salmon looked rather small, and I could not help but think they must still be hungry even after finishing their plate.


My husband and I chose to be rebels, and odered something different again.  Since we were on the seaside, my husband thought it would be opportune to try the local fish.  He ordered the Market Fish which on that day happened to be Terakihi, that is a popular fish with the New Zealand population.  The Terakihi came with Uawa Organic Polenta, Braised Fennel, Courgettes and Asparagus, and Sauce Escabeche.  The Terakihi lived up to his expectations, and he was impressed by how soft the fish was.  The roasted vegetables full of flavour and very tasty.  If you are curious to see what fish in New Zealand look like, you should visit this fish website at

market fish

Because I usually eat fish anyway as part of my daily diet, I decided to try something different for a change.  I ordered the Prime Scotch Fillet of Beef.  It was beautifully presented on my plate, and came with twice Cooked Kumara Chips, Slow Roasted Tomatoes, Eggplant, Spinach, Pancetta, and Béarnaise Sauce.  This time I was impressed by how large the size of the fillet was, it was quite generous and appeared to be the largest portion size when compared to the other dishes.


Since I was very young I have always preferred my food cooked rare.  So that would be rare lamb, rare beef, and rare fish.  Sometimes it can be a lottery when you ask for something to be cooked rare in a restaurant.  In the case of a steak, it may come back rare as it should, or it may arrive raw instead of rare.  You would not believe it, but I have even had steak appear ‘well done’ when I specifically requested rare.  Of course, I have made the mistake in the past of forgetting to submit a request for how I like my steak cooked, in which case I’ve had it turn up on my plate well done.  I was very impressed with the chef at the Wharf.  My steak arrived exactly ‘rare’, and for me that meant it was cooked perfectly.  The meat was beautifully soft and tender and juicy, ummm hmmmm, its making my mouth water just thinking about it.  As for the vegetables, they were also cooked beautifully and very tasty.  It was good to eat kumara again, that is a recently popular dish in New Zealand for chips, as a more nutritious and less fattening replacement for potatoes.


As we were celebrating a long waited reunion, I resolved it was a jolly good excuse to indulge in dessert and coffee.  So I ordered a soy latte and was delighted when my coffee was accompanied with a complimentary chocolate!  I think I had a slight overdose of caffeine that day, as I also indulged in an espresso for my dessert.  I ordered the Affagatto that consisted of Vanilla Ice Cream, Baileys, Espresso and Liqueur Chocolates containing Cointreau Ganache, Sambucca, Chocolate Mousse.  You can just imagine the fun I had with that dessert!  My husband explained to me that Affogatto means ‘drowned’ in Italian.  In this context, it means that the icecream is drowned in baileys and coffee.  In a way, the Affogatto  reminds me of those special liqeuer coffees with Scotch.  The rest of the table ordered the Sticky Date Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream, and the Cheesecake with Macerated Berries and Vanilla Ice Cream.  I could not get over the size of the cheesecake, it was massive.  At the moment the cheesecake arrived, I gazed wistfully across the table to it, wondering if I should not have ordered two desserts instead of just one!

The service was swift and very punctual.  The staff were friendly, professional and anticipated our requirements.  As part of my new health phase I am trying to make a conscious effort to drink more water.  So I was particularly impressed when they brought two carafes of water to our table with water glasses, and continued to refill the jugs throughout the evening.  If you have loved ones in Gisborne, or friends planning to visit Gisborne then I recommend you purchase gift vouchers from the Wharf to give them .  The Wharf is a lovely treat especially for those with something special to celebrate.  One note of caution though, you should advise them to phone ahead to make a booking, because the restaurant can get very busy.  Although the restaurant was empty when we arrived at 6pm on a Tuesday night, it soon filled up inside by 8pm.  Of course if they don’t mind eating outside on a cold winter’s night then they can wing it, as the outside heaters should keep them warm.

Wharf Cafe, Bar and Restaurant, The Esplanade, Gisborne, NZ (+64 [0]6 868 4876).  Website

Licensed:  Yes, fully licensed.

Hours:   9am until late, seven days a week, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Seating:  Inside seating for 60 people and outside seating for another 60. 

Takeaways:  Yes

Gift vouchers:  Yes 


Food:               10 out of 10
Ambience:     10 out of 10
Service:           10 out of 10

Published by Alice Letts

Online training for parents and children. Online piano and music tutoring. Online tutoring for English as a Second Language (ESOL) with an emphasis on pronunciation. Online meditation coaching for parents and how to incorporate meditation into daily family life.

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