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Address: Level One, Hotel DeBrett, 3b O'Connell Street
Phone: 09 969 1545
Charming, quirky and exceptionally well-designed. These are not words often used to describe hotel restaurants which often suffer from being too vast, characterless and lacking any sense of intimacy. Kitchen Restaurant however, housed within the boutique central city Hotel DeBrett, suffers from no such lack of appeal.
The glass-roofed atrium is filled with artworks, colour and clever design making Kitchen one of the most interesting dining rooms in Auckland. A piece of corrugated iron artwork by Jeff Thomson climbs one wall, while a waterfall spills down over luminous tiles on another. A mantelpiece is completely covered with a cluster of flickering candles and a collection of beautiful old plates decorates the wall opposite the open kitchen.
It's a mix of retro and boho and it's easy to see why Conde Nast Traveller last year added Hotel DeBrett to their Hot List Hotels, which honours boutique hotels with extraordinary design.
Head Chef Mark Sycamore, previously of esteemed Blanket Bay Lodge in the South Island, has carefully crafted a menu that sounds so enticing that we laboured over our decisions - the scallops or the crab, sweetbreads or kingfish, goat's cheese brulee or beef fillets? Every dish in the line-up of starters and mains sounded brilliant.
In the end the Waikanae crab in soft cannelloni tubes and the pork cheeks won out for starters and then the lamb and john dory for mains. Let me begin with the crab - which was not mine, but I managed to steal more than a few forkfuls. Tender tubes of pasta were stuffed with sweet Waikanae crab and sat in a pool of the most wonderful carrot and ginger emulsion, with hints of fennel, coriander and lemon oil. This is the sort of dish that makes you aware of the importance flavour balance has in cooking and when the right balance is struck, it is a beautiful thing.
I would have been envious of my date's choice had I not been enjoying the pork cheeks quite so much. They were rendered soft and tender by being braised in cider, and sat on choucroute, the French answer to sauerkraut, with a pair of crispy little black pudding spring rolls, caramelised onions and apple puree to make the picture complete. Outstanding.
We continued on our dreamy dinner, enjoying the international feel to the place (the neighbouring tables were occupied by stylish, non-English speakers) and food that delighted our taste buds.
Delicate fillets of crispy skinned john dory were teamed with braised oxtail, a tri-colour of heirloom carrots and a puree of that mysteriously musky vegetable, Jerusalem artichoke. A shame the fish had not been taken out of the pan earlier, as it was slightly dry, and the carrots had suffered from a minute too long on the heat but the overall flavour of the dish was commendable.
Our other main, the lamb, was char-grilled, served perfectly pink and tender, with spring vegetables, pinot noir shallots and a preparation of braised lamb neck fillet, which took this dish to the next level altogether.
The staff at Kitchen are attentive and careful, even to the point of noticing that our table had one of those small but annoying wobbles going on and fixing it immediately. We love that attention to detail as it is these small nuances in an evening which can either contribute to, or detract from, the overall pleasure of dining out.
The wine list at Kitchen is impressively focused on promoting New Zealand wine, only deviating from our fair land in offering French champagne and one bottle each from Barossa Valley and Adelaide.
Unfortunately the desserts at Kitchen let us down. I chose the chocolate pavé, that simplest of sweets, which is made from so few ingredients (mostly just cream and dark chocolate) combined and set, to form a glossy, silky whole of great richness and simplicity - and therein lies its appeal and beauty. Kitchen's version was made fussy with too many other flavours and textures. A foam "banana milk", salted caramel, peanut butter ice cream, and a few more components my palate has forgotten, in, I suspect, an attempt to simplify things. The handcrafted petit fours were also left half eaten as they too failed to impress us. Admittedly this was the only bung note in the evening.
There is an artful sophistication to Kitchen Restaurant, helped along by Sycamore's intriguing menu, a team of professional staff, a house bar that is cosy and welcoming and design that is world-class. This is an Auckland gem and I always enjoy rediscovering it, for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
From the menu: Pork cheeks $23, Waikanae crab cannelloni $24, crisp skinned john dory $35, char-grilled Hawkes Bay lamb $37, chocolate pave $16, petit four $9.
Drinks: Fully licensed.