A weekend amble along Ponsonby Road reveals a sprightly newcomer to Auckland’s rising culinary scene.
Call us overly committed to the cause, but we do love that our city continues to develop at a rapid pace. New establishments continue to materialise, with many taking us in some very inspiring directions. The most recent of which is Orphan’s Kitchen, a promising new eatery that’s taken up residence on Auckland’s Ponsonby Road.
Despite its prominent location, Orphan’s Kitchen feels like a genuine neighbourhood spot. It’s the brainchild of chef Tom Hishon and his business partner Josh Helm, and the duo have set out to prove that white table cloths aren’t prerequisites for culinary merit. A product of their combined passions, the restaurant has opened its doors with a distinct lack of street signage which only adds to the intrigue of what lies inside, and it’s already attracting plenty of attention.
Previously home to Ella, the intimate dining room has undergone a dramatic overhaul, stripped back to reveal the original structure’s bones. Simply dressed, it’s designed as a dwelling to linger in, handsomely lit with light bulbs in large glass jars hung from the ceiling, white washed walls, soft sheepskin seat covers, and the clincher: thick slabs of raw honey gold macrocarpa timber, that have been fashioned into casual bar leaners, small intimate tables and a large communal dining space. The overall effect is rather seductive, set to tease out a more relaxed version of oneself, with little pretension or fanfare to be found.
In the kitchen, Head Chef Tom Hishon, previously of Clooney and pop-up restaurant The Hamptons, has crafted a concise menu that delivers an intriguing selection of dishes. You don’t need to be a dedicated gourmand to dine here; the fare is refined without being ‘gastro’, and there’s a distinct focus on bringing more unusual ingredients to the forefront. Skillfully assembled yet approachable, the details are what set the food apart, beginning with a creamy puck of hand-churned browned butter served alongside slices of handmade bread upon arrival. We started with several of the smaller plates, which can be enjoyed to share or as individual entrée-style dishes. The yellowtail tuna belly was a refreshing citrus-infused kick to begin with, tangled with thin slices of grapefruit, persimmon and radish; while the smoked salmon, with celeriac, black rice, braeburn apple and horseradish, wooed us with its play on textures.
For mains, all eyes settled immediately on the wild boar boil up, a hearty dish that hints at Hishon’s keen vision for New Zealand cuisine. Complete with puha, kumara, flax seeds, watercress and mini doughboys, it’s a far cry from what usually springs to mind when the word ‘boil up’ is bandied about and we couldn’t recommend it more – the meat is beautifully tender, and with a bit of luck, this dish will become one of the menu mainstays.
Next on the agenda was the rye gnocchi – it didn’t take long before forkfuls of the buttery morsels were being hastily shared across the table. And while we were rapidly approaching the upper limits of full, we couldn’t leave without sampling the sweeter stuff, opting for the wonderfully indulgent 70% chocolate dessert, with tamarillo, black cardamom and chia seeds. The wine list, as curated by Josh Helm, also warrants merit, with a varied and clearly considered selection, that if requested, can be matched to individual dishes.
While the restaurant is currently open for dinner only, there are plans to open during the day very soon, and we’ll hedge a few bets that the lunch menu will be every bit as enticing as the evening offerings. The upstairs dining room also deserves a mention; able to seat between 16-20 people, it’s the only part of the eatery that will take bookings (downstairs operates on a first-come, first-served basis), and looks set to be a welcome addition to the array of private dining spaces available in the area.
Orphan’s Kitchen is indeed a sum of its parts and despite having opened mere days ago, is already attracting a slew of patrons, who judging by the crowd when we visited, are keen to adopt this welcoming bistro as their new local.
118 Ponsonby Road
(09) 378 7979