Orphans Kitchen

Reviewed by Sarah Wall, October 2013
Orphans Kitchen
  • Cuisine Rating15/20
  • Address118 Ponsonby Rd, PonsonbyGoogle Maps
  • Phone09-378 7979
  • Website Facebook.com/orphanskitchen
  • Operating hoursDinner Tues-Sat
  • PriceLarger plates $25

Orphans typically get a raw deal. Have the misfortune to be orphaned in 19th-century literature and you were locked away in a garret, ill-treated by step-parents, reduced to a diet of stale bread and water and dressed in ragged cast-offs.

Happily, Auckland’s charming new Orphans Kitchen subverts these tropes. A light and airy, vaguely Scandi-influenced room, it’s dressed with rough-hewn wooden tables, soft-painted wooden walls, metal stools adorned with squares of sheepskin and jars of warm-toned light. It’s a far cry from a garret, as is the lovely upstairs area that can be booked out for larger congregations of orphans (they don’t take bookings downstairs).

The welcome is friendly – co-owner Josh Helm oversees the floor, with a team of sweet-natured staff who seem genuinely enthusiastic about their work. Helm himself will discourse cheerfully on everything from his homemade shrubs (old-fashioned beverages produced by steeping fruit in apple cider vinegar then adding a bit of sparkling water) to the eclectic bin-end wine list.

Far from being stale, the bread (a nice complimentary touch) is a lovely spelt-studded sourdough, served warm with a dollop of smoky-sweet burnt butter scattered with ash that you’re inclined to swipe off the board with your finger.

Chef-owner Tom Hishon (ex-The Hamptons and Clooney) has put together a menu of four “smaller” plates and four “larger”, plus a selection of sides, “savouriness” (think cheese and charcuterie) and a couple of desserts. It’s a tight collection of smart, modern offerings that appear deceptively simple, but are grounded in accomplished technique and judicious flavour pairings.

Take the smoked salmon with celeriac, black rice, braeburn and horseradish – a seemingly effortless combination of fresh, zingy flavours and complementary textures. The house-smoked Ora King salmon is offset brilliantly by the punch and acidity of the apple and horseradish, its silky texture contrasting with the crunch of the celeriac and rice.

Full-flavoured, beautifully tender shreds of merino, a slightly sharp feijoa chutney, creamy and tangy sheep’s milk yoghurt, a scattering of watercress and a bed of millet tucked inside house-made tortillas are a great starting note.

Larger plates are similarly rewarding. On a chilly early spring evening, the wild boar boil-up was a warm hug of a meal, its chunks of smoky pig nestling in a complex broth alongside a boiled kumara and a handful of watercress.

The rye gnocchi are springy and light, the accompanying soft-poached egg delivering an unctuous golden sauce, alongside little knobs of Jerusalem artichoke, creamy and crunchy shards of hazelnut and crisp fried sage leaves.

Side dishes take a leaf from nana’s kitchen and give them a contemporary twist – a wedge of iceberg is dressed with a tangy mayo; an enamel dish contains golden roast yams tossed with little shards of Salash salami and served with a smoked sour cream.

Staff are happy to advise on the short but sweet wine list; beer drinkers will be happy with the on-tap local Brothers Brewery Lager and “Orphans pale ale”. The menu’s quirkiness extends to its non-alcoholic drink options – there are the aforementioned shrubs, coconut water and cold pour-over Ethiopian coffee, plus a host of interesting herbal teas.

As for desserts, oh the desserts… Hishon saves the best for last with just two perfectly conceived options. Silky-smooth Valrhona chocolate mousse is perfectly complemented by poached slices of tamarillo, with black cardamom and chia seeds for extra flavour and on-trend points.

And a deconstructed banoffee pie achieves that rare feat of being a better idea than the original – slices of banana, dollops of unctuous caramel, flakes of coconut, a strewing of passionfruit seeds and a scattering of biscuity crumbs offers sweetness, freshness and lightness.

Orphans Kitchen is a charming, unique offering that brings a breath of fresh air to the Auckland dining scene. Please sirs, can we have some more?

www.villamaria.co.nz/cuisine http://www.whitestonecheese.co.nzsanpellegrino.complumm.comwww.europeanfood.co.nz

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