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Address: 2 High St, Auckland City
Ph: (09) 969 1545
The idea of putting a rich concoction of braised oxtail alongside the delicate flavour of John Dory is not one that would occur to many of us. Nor would the concept of basil sorbet spring to mind at the mention of cheesecake.
Which explains why most of us are better suited to being customers rather than the sort of front-rank chefs who provide the style at restaurants like Kitchen at Hotel DeBrett.
Kitchen's signature is style. The dining space, spread around the hotel atrium, is one of the most interesting and distinctive in the city with a relaxed little lounge area with settees and a huge fireplace glittering with candles. The description of its being in the atrium might suggest an uncomfortable airport lounge feel but it is, in fact, welcoming and attractive, provoking complimentary remarks from my companion, who tends to the critical if she is not happy with her physical surroundings.
The food matches the premises, fresh combinations of ingredients and plenty of imagination without toppling into the too-clever-by-half category.
The menu is not large but each dish has something tempting about it. I had, in fact, overlooked the mention of oxtail when I decided on the crispy skin John Dory as my main course and might have passed if I had. This would have meant missing a genuine surprise as the braised meat accentuated the superb flavour of the fish, perfectly cooked, and adroitly accompanied by sweet little heirloom carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, horseradish, leaf spinach.
I had started with the pork cheeks done in cider with a fairly traditional assembly of black pudding, caramelised onions, choucroute and apple purée black pudding. I enjoyed the sweetness of the flavours and, for once, wished the portions had been rather larger.
Our other first course was very much a contrast with the flavours delicate and subtle in the pairing of crab cannelloni on a carrot and ginger base with fennel, coriander and lemon oil. Again the combination worked well.
Our other main choice was the duck breast, chosen partly to compare it with a recently endured dish which was a wonder of toughness. Here the meat was pink and succulent with a confit leg spring roll invention, pistachio and apple, beetroot and cauliflower. "That's more like it," was the verdict.
Unusually the Valrhona chocolate was ruled out when it came to dessert on the ground that the peanut butter icecream sounded less-than-appealing. But the ricotta "cheesecake", turned out just as recherché and unlikely to be recognised by anyone's little Jewish grandmother. It was, one might say, deconstructed and came with the above-mentioned basil sorbet, the crunch of hazelnuts, poached rhubarb and apple and it was lovely, both in looks and taste.
I went for what looked a simpler option with the dish of icecream and sorbets and the quartet of offerings were all excellent, each graced with an appropriate garnish - the plum being delightful and the ground coffee bean dusting for another being particularly effective.
With such good food and in such a setting, the service needed to be up to the mark. I am fond of that blend of informality and professionalism that New Zealand restaurants can deliver at their best and this was of that variety. On a busy evening, the business clients were being greeted as regulars but a pair of tourists at an adjoining table were given the full treatment and were clearly impressed by their evening. So were we.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $225 for two first courses, mains, desserts and five glasses of wine.
Wine list: A good list, complete with tasting notes, dominated by New Zealand wines, and a respectable range by the glass, including some of the top-end "sommelier's selection".
Verdict: Style aplenty in a thriving city centre restaurant catering to the business crowd but well suited to couples and groups too.By John Gardner Email John