We wanted to go some place new, cheap and close last night (early January 2005) and while scanning the restaurant reviews of the East Bay Express, I came across a recent one for The New Zealander. The reviewer gave a thumbs-up to the pies served at this recently opened brew pub, and we decided to give it a try.
Finding it proved a little bit difficult as the large Crolls sign initially gives the impression that you haven't found the restaurant yet. You have. It's right at the corner of Webster Street and Central Avenue. If you're coming from Oakland, you travel as far down Webster Street as it goes and you'll find the restaurant on your left.
With its high ceilings, large bar, many windows and somewhat spartan look, The New Zealander reminded me of an old-world restaurant, a masculine place of sorts, though it's definitely one where couples or families would be comfortable. I liked that the tables were nicely spaced, and the lack of clientele made dinner a pretty private experience. The lighting was too bright for it to be romantic, however.
The menu is pretty brief and it mostly offers pies ($6), sausage rolls ($6), sandwiches ($7-10) and a few roasted meats ($13-14). There is a very brief kid's menu that includes spinach and chicken nuggets ($2.25) and carrot sticks ($1). Vegetarians can enjoy salads ($4.50), a fisherman's lunch ($7) or a vegetarian pie.
We asked the waitress what was good and she recommended the pies, so that's what we decided on. I got the steak & cheese one and Mike had the minted lamb. They were both good choices. The ground lamb had a subtle taste of mint and it was quite tasty. The steak came in nice chunks, though whatever cheese might have been there had melted and unified with the gravy. The puff dough was nice, neither too thin or thick. These weren't the best meat pies we've ever had, but they were quite satisfying taste-wise.
Our one complaint was that they didn't work well size-wise. They were too large to serve as appetizers, and too small by themselves to serve as a full meal. You can order them with soup or salad for an extra $2, but we're not really soup or salad people. If we go again, we'll probably order 3 pies and split one of them. Someone on Craigslist commented that the Lamb Curry pie was filled mostly with vegetables and barely had any lamb, so you may want to keep away from that one.
We were obviously still hungry so we decided to have dessert. There are 3 choices: bread & butter pudding, pecan squares or French apple tart ($5 each, $1 extra for a la mode). I had never had bread & butter pudding and I really liked its smooth, fluffy consistency. However, the pudding was pretty tasteless by itself and I wasn't as fond of the sauce it came with, it was just too strong and bitter and needed some more sweetness. The apple tart was mostly a bunch of thick slices of cooked apples on top of the thinnest of crusts. I didn't like it much either, again I think it wasn't sweet enough. The accompanying ice cream was good, however.
We both had sodas ($1.75 each, no refills) and as neither of us drinks beer we have nothing to say about their alcoholic options.
Service was good, fast and friendly, though the waitress seemed a bit inexperienced.
I can see going back there with Mika, though I don't think I'd make a special trip for it.
The New Zealander
1400 Webster St. (at Central Ave.)