Address: Shed 22, Princes Wharf
Phone: Ph: (09) 320 4373

I should have liked The Culpeper more - perhaps much more - than I did. None of the food was dreadful (you learn to be grateful for small mercies in this job) and the company was excellent.

The staff were only slightly ingratiating - asked repeatedly what my plans are for the rest of the evening, I sometimes ache to say "parsing Virgil's Eclogues", just so I can watch their reaction - even if their swaggering confidence about the product was a bit misplaced.

There aren't even any spelling mistakes on the menu - though you have to love the bit on the website where the manager observes that "the small detail's can have a big impact".

To forestall the accusation that I arrived in a bad mood, I can only assure you that I did not. Even if I had, I would have been enormously cheered by the smoothness with which they moved our almost-superannuitant group to the back corner, far from the DJ serenading evening drinkers. As the website so poetically has it, this place is "about relaxing", and someone was smart enough to realise that drum'n'bass wouldn't relax any of our quartet.


But looking back, I think my dissatisfaction stemmed from the bland and derivative incoherence of the whole experience. The enigma begins with its curious name - I always think a restaurant's name should conjure an image of what to expect and Culpeper sounds like sherry and stuffed partridge to me - and continues through the selection of food, which seems to have collected every new restaurant fad from all over town for the past few years and dumped them in one place.

Sashimi (in a restaurant that isn't Japanese); sliders; fried chicken (okay, it's duck); a salad with kale and seeds; jerk chicken; lamb ribs; pulled pork; smoked brisket: hell, by the time I reached the end of the menu I could hardly keep my eyes open.

The Culpeper has taken over half the footprint of Euro (and is, in the post-Gault era, under the eye of the same executive chef, Gareth Stewart) and it's a light and pretty space - greenery and tiles and pastel colours.

Of what we tried, the kingfish sashimi was fine (what's not to like about raw fish?) and the "botanist's" salad - whose name suggests Noma-style foraging - was perfectly unexceptionable but the crispy fried duck's flesh was only slightly moister than the coating (which had a little sweet note I couldn't place).

A colleague has written glowingly of the brisket, but the short rib of beef, which purported to have been smoked for 14 hours, was chewy and dry and the oddly named "giant" squid (giant squid is inedible) was a very small serving, although that may have been a postmodern joke.

In the end, it was not really a bad meal - it lacked the character to deserve such an adjective - but it felt like a long series of afterthoughts.

I can't help feeling the place is best regarded as a bar.

Smaller plates $13-$32; From the firepit $17-$45; desserts $16.
VERDICT: Bland and derivative.