Jesse Mulligan’s Auckland Restaurant Review: Night-Time Dining Returns To Orphans Kitchen

By Jesse Mulligan
The fried chicken on the night-time menu at Orphans Kitchen on Ponsonby Rd. Photo / Babiche Martens


Address: 118 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby

Phone: (09) 378 7979

Reservations: Accepted

Drinks: Fully licensed

From the menu: Gilda $5ea; kahawai-nduja croquettes $18; parsnip with molé $19; fried chicken $22; tuna with boquerones $25

Rating: 16/20

Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a

I struggle to think of any one person who’s improved this city’s food scene as much as Tom Hishon has. His launch of Daily Bread was exactly what we needed, when we needed it — not that anyone ever complained about being unable to buy fermented sourdough at Superette Newmarket, but how good is it now that you can?

There was already this sort of bread available in Auckland but most of it wasn’t as good as Daily Bread’s is, and certainly wasn’t produced at that sort of scale. The flagship in Point Chev has been rammed since the day it opened in 2018 and in case anybody thought that was just a trend, the new Britomart outlet has recently been getting “the sort of queues I’ve never seen in New Zealand before”, according to one chef I know who works nearby.

(This isn’t a childcare column but I should also mention how much better you feel about kids’ lunches once you’ve switched them on to Daily, via the white sourdough and then on to the Pioneer; children live on sandwiches, and it’s an amazing breakthrough to get them off the processed supermarket stuff and on to a loaf that’s been properly fermented.)

Beyond the bakery, there is Tom’s part in the With Wild wapiti venison project, already well-documented in these pages, and of course the restaurants. Kingi has become an icon, a properly flash Britomart dining room with big aspirations and more room still to get better. Orphans Kitchen is where I recently sent a huge international guest for a coffee meeting — knowing that though it might not have the predictable polish of a big corporate joint, it would be the best possible example of Auckland cafe culture.

The new night-time offering at Orphans Kitchen has a “wine bar with snacks” vibe. Photo / Babiche Martens
The new night-time offering at Orphans Kitchen has a “wine bar with snacks” vibe. Photo / Babiche Martens

Orphans was where I held my 40th birthday party, where my wife had her hen’s dinner. It’s where we used to stop for a cheese roll and a long black post-lockdown when window service was allowed and we just wanted to see strangers’ faces again. And now after a few years dark it’s back open for dinner — presumably because Kingi is running well under its own steam and Tom is ready again to make use of this great Ponsonby space after 4pm.

Hospitality staff probably have enough to worry about on the first night of business without a restaurant critic showing up, but I’m sorry guys, I couldn’t avoid it — I was heading to Japan that weekend and needed to bank a dinner before I went. Luckily there were no first-night nerves, just a few empty chairs (it’s so hard to get a gauge how busy things are out there right now — a friend got turned away from four full Karangahape Rd restaurants one recent Thursday night, but I’ve seen plenty of quiet rooms too, and I’ve never had so many carparks on Ponsonby Rd to choose from as on this visit).

The wine list has been created by Everyday Wine’s Dan Gillett, who has played quite the trick on Auckland, turning us on to wines which would have got him kicked out of dinner parties 10 years ago.

Unfiltered, skin-tinged, naturally fermented … I think it’s fair to say we’ve learned to love them, and for those of us still sceptical, he offers wines that are more visually approachable too, even if they have their own surprises (I asked to see the bottle of chardonnay I was drinking by the glass, but the waiter couldn’t do it because, it turns out, he was pouring it from a tap).

The tuna with white anchovies. Photo / Babiche Martens
The tuna with white anchovies. Photo / Babiche Martens

The new Orphans Kitchen is playing down the food a little — “wine bar with snacks” is the vibe — but I have to tell you their tuna is my Auckland dish of the year.

You must try it: six blushing pink sheets of the finest cut of bluefin, marinated in olive oil, which I didn’t know was a thing but that lean fish flesh definitely benefits from some fat in the mouth. Each sheet is laid around the outside of the plate with a morsel of boquerones (marinated white anchovy) placed on one corner. You’re encouraged to roll the sheet up around the anchovy then dip it into a sauce of pickled egg mayo — thick and a little sweet, a bit like the mustard sauce your mum used to serve with corned beef. The final mouthful isn’t huge but it’s so wonderful that three each is the perfect number — it’s another gift from Tom to Auckland.

How was the rest of the food? Great, by anybody else’s standards. I perhaps ordered badly, ending up with two deep-fried dishes in the kahawai-nduja croquettes and a pretty plain fried chicken. Each came with dishes of mayo that weren’t identical but felt pretty close, so for a while there things were a bit samey.

I loved the roasted (sorry, sous-vide then roasted) strips of parsnip with agro dolce syrup and a real from-scratch-tasting molé, but I was starting to feel for our photographer Babiche, who despite being the GOAT can only do so much with beige.

The gilda, with pickled chilli, olive and anchovy. Photo / Babiche Martens
The gilda, with pickled chilli, olive and anchovy. Photo / Babiche Martens

So maybe there is room for some of Kingi’s ambition on this menu but overall it offers something new and very welcome to Ponsonby Rd, which has started to feel like K Rd’s poor cousin in recent years. As I raved about the tuna the waiter pulled his phone out and showed me a photo from that day, of Tom Hishon standing inside the dining room with that entire fish tucked under his arm.

I love his respect for real food, his quiet, humble unwillingness to cut any corners. Welcome back Orphans Kitchen; all hail the prince of Auckland cuisine.

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