Entering foodie heaven in Auckland

By Nici Wickes

Two star restaurateurs prepare to open new eateries on Federal St.

Luke Dallow's Red Hummingbird Restaurant. Photo / Supplied
Luke Dallow's Red Hummingbird Restaurant. Photo / Supplied

With the countdown to the Rugby World Cup, there's a seemingly rush of new eating establishments opening around town. We talk to two well-respected foodies who are both opening restaurants as part of a SkyCity hospitality quarter on Federal St - alongside Peter Gordon's Bellota bar and the soon-to-be-opened The Grill by Sean Connolly. Wellington favourite and television star Al Brown will open his first Auckland restaurant, Depot on Saturday, while local restaurant hero Luke Dallow - the force behind such places as Chapel and Sale Street - has great expectations for his new gastro pub, Red Hummingbird, which opens on Monday.

AL BROWN

How long has Depot been in the pipeline?

I was approached by Nigel Morrison of SkyCity about 18 months ago with the idea of doing something in Auckland, but I made the decision only six months ago after having a couple of chats with Peter Gordon, who helped convince me it was a good idea. I'm now very appreciative of his persuasion.

What has been the biggest challenge in getting the doors open?

Lots of things really ... being away from my family, the commute from Wellington, finding the right staff, dealing with the endless questions from builders, project managers, designers, plumbers, architects, suppliers, producers, etc.

How does your new venture reflect the essence of who you are and your approach to eating out?

It's about informality, simplicity and having fun. I see food as being the "vehicle" for conversation, laughter and good times. It's about spending more time around a table with friends and family. The food plays an integral part but it's the people and place that often transform what you are eating into a remarkable eating experience.

Where does the name come from?

My main role after setting up Depot is to support the team we've put together. With the TV shows and opportunities I get to travel around, I come in contact first-hand with literally hundreds of producers and foragers who often slip under the mainstream radar. It's my job to intercept as much of these often unique products and send them back to Depot for Kyle Street (head chef) and the team to cook and simply showcase the fresh product in as a natural state as possible. The space has a slight industrial-meets-Bach feel and is in Federal St, which was once was a hub for small factories and depots. It all seems to make good sense.

What's going to be on the menu?

We are open from 7am serving coffee and fresh beignets, muesli, or a simple hot bacon roll. The kitchen stays open all day and into the evening. Depot features a raw bar, front and centre of the eatery. Oysters, clams, etc from all over the country will all be alive, on ice, and shucked to order. Ninety per cent of the food served will be cooked over charcoal or in a wood-fired oven. It's a place to drop in and re-fuel if you're in a hurry, come for the evening and slowly graze on the shared plates on offer, or pop in late for supper.

What won't diners find on the menu?

Fillet steak, rack of lamb, pork belly.

Can you make a prediction as to the best-selling dish/cocktail on your menu?

I have no idea, as a cook you believe in all your dishes and trust your customers do too. Something that I recently came up with is taking a fresh kina tongue and slipping it into a chilled shot glass. Fill with ice-cold good quality tequila, a squeeze of fresh lime and shoot it back ... Salty, sweet, and sour, it's named a Tekina.

LUKE DALLOW

How long has Red Hummingbird been in the pipeline?

Since late December, after a quick conversation with SkyCity's CEO, then two or three sleeps and the bar appeared in my head.

What's been the biggest challenge in getting the doors open?

Getting my creative ideas made, which has caused a lot of sideways looks.

How does your new venture reflect the essence of who you are and your approach to eating out?

Casual, yet attentive.

Where does the name Red Hummingbird come from?

I've always had the name in my little black book of ideas, it's got a great ring to it.

What's going to be on the menu?

Family pie recipes, smoked snapper, eel and salmon, whole, half and quarter Peruvian roasted chickens and donuts for a sweet, all prepared in the world's smallest kitchen behind the bar.

What won't diners find on the menu?

Salt and pepper squid ... sorry it's everywhere.

Can you make a prediction as to the best-selling dish/cocktail on your menu?

Crayfish and pancetta tubetti rigati cheese (mac cheese) and an English mojito - made with Hayman's gin.

Do you have a vision for what Federal St will have evolved into in five years?

A pedestrian-only lane that will become a vibrant hospitality precinct in the CBD.

What's your vision for Auckland City's dining and bar scene in say five years?

I would like to see Auckland hospitality matching cities like Melbourne, New York and Rotorua - only joking - and Chicago.

- NZ Herald

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