Herald on Sunday rating: 4/5
Address: Hotel DeBrett, 3B O'Connell St
Open: Daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner
Ph: (09) 969 1545
At an Argentinian asado (barbecue) restaurant, which is sort of a temple to the consumption of beef, one of my mates ordered chicken for entrée and main.
"I was about to accuse him of being a vegetarian," I later wrote, "but he would have probably argued that eating chicken is not strictly vegetarian."
This earned me a stiff rebuke from a real vegetarian who emailed me to say that any vegetarian who ate chicken was a hypocrite and true vegetarians, etc etc. I was tempted to conclude that protein deficiency had robbed her of a sense of humour, but instead I apologised for the mix-up ("It was meant to be a joke," I pleaded) and we got into an amicable exchange of emails about what a raw deal vegetarians get in restaurants: mostly the best they can hope for is a risotto; in some places, they would have to make do with chips and salad.
I rely on the Professor to keep an eye on this for me. She's a vegetarian by inclination if not strict resolve. I am not. The way I see it, I didn't spend millions of years working my way to the top of the food chain without earning the right to eat everything below me.
The Professor doesn't see it this way. Left to her own devices, she'd never cook meat at home, but I do all the cooking so she's rarely left to her own devices. Her appetites have, however, encouraged me to cook much less meat - the biggest single contribution any of us can make to slowing climate change, by the way - and as a result I know what a vegetarian meal looks like.
Eggplant parmesan, potato curry, pumpkin fritters: you know what I mean. There is something on the plate that the plate is about.
This is something restaurants often miss - assuming they actually give enough of a damn about vegetarians to create a dish for them. The vego main at Kitchen is a case in point.
I'd ordered it because the Professor - just to be contrary, I expect - had opted for the slow-cooked lamb. (It was sensational, by the way. I nicked a bit and it was rich and dense but still sweetly juicy. Served with roast pumpkin and beans, it was comfort food of surpassing class and only a "sweetbread pie" - the pastry so heavy and the sweetbreads so sauced that I had to ask what they were - let it down).
But back to my dish: it was described as "smoked potato and mozzarella beignets" (that's what the French and fancy people call doughnuts) and it answered to that description. The small, crisply deep-fried balls of potato exuded a smoky, cheesy smell with a taste to match.
Everything else on the plate kept the promise on the menu: a mild sweetcorn salsa, coriander sprigs, avocado. But as Gertrude Stein famously wrote of her home town, there was no there there. The whole felt like an accompaniment to something that was about to arrive but never did.
Kitchen is part of the deco landmark Hotel DeBrett, stylishly refurbished two years ago into the only boutique hotel in the inner city. Head chef Mark Sycamore is a relatively recent arrival from the Blanket Bay resort at Glenorchy, where the likes of you and I would never have been able to afford to taste his food.
And it's a pleasure to be able to do so here. Our entrées were quite superb: a generous wodge of Clevedon buffalo ricotta with melt-in-the-mouth croutons made of brioche and figs soaked in vincotto; and a round tuna loin, wrapped in seaweed, delicately flecked with tempura batter and sliced sushi-style, served with paper-thin slices of cucumber, radish and, I think, witloof. Both were thoughtful and inventive approaches to familiar ingredients.
The tarte tatin, too, was irresistible, because it said on the menu "please allow 20 minutes". It was heavenly, but butter, sugar, fruit, heat and time are usually a pretty dynamite combination, I find.
Service is efficient and stylish, if perhaps slightly intrusive. But with Sycamore's arrival, Kitchen is definitely hitting the right notes. It's worth the effort to climb those ravishingly carpeted stairs.
Ambience: Light and airy
Vegetarians: See above
Watch out for: The chandeliers
Bottom line: Classy touches
$169 for two
Sides (2): $16
Tarte tatin: $16
Wine (2 glasses): $25