I’ll probably write some reflections on the equivalency or otherwise of the Michelin Guide to the ‘chef’s hat’ system that marks out the upper echelon of restaurants in Australia and New Zealand in the coming weeks as I come to the end of my time in the region.
Whatever the case, to go to bed with two hats or stars and wake up with none is a pretty horrible feeling for a restaurant. Such a fate befell the Orphans Kitchen in Auckland’s suburb of Ponsonby the night before I visited.
From what I can understand, this rude awakening struck quite a few places in this year’s awards, mainly in cases where a place’s chef had changed during the year.
I hadn’t booked the place on the basis of hats or otherwise, so I was coming to this fresh. The reason I heard the tale is a classic example of the smallness of the world. I recognised one of the front of house staff and indeed it turned out that she had recently been working in Edinburgh at Good Brothers. It was very pleasant to renew acquaintances.
Anyhoo, quite what the hat judges were up to in removing the two hat designation is something of a mystery as the meal I had at Orphans Kitchen was completely splendid.
Things began with me sipping some local bubbles and contemplating the menu from my perch at one of the window shelf seats. It offered both a la carte and a chef’s selection. I stuck with a la carte for a change opening with three local oysters, then a cauliflower starter and a main course of line-caught gurnard.
The Te Matuku Bay oysters promptly arrived topped with a chardonnay granita and pickled shallot. These were excellently fresh and packed the expected rockpool flavour punch.
Next we had a highly elegant dish of fermented, fresh and pickled cauliflower with apricot, macadamia and thyme. This was a dish of deft balance and real complexity. It was quite wonderful.
The main matched expertly cooked gurnard with tangelon, yam and kaffir leaf. This was fresh, bright and full of zing. It was a lovely spring fish dish.
These dishes were accompanied by two excellent wines from Mountford Estate with the 2005 chardonnay particularly good with the fish.
I was lured in by sourdough ice cream which was matched with a good oloroso. I finished with some very good filter coffee.
So overall, it was a considerable pleasure to dine at the Orphans Kitchen. The whole experience was spot-on with dishes of real charm and panache. While you won’t find it in this year’s hat list, it remains entirely worthy of your attention if you’re looking for a relaxed evening eating highly accomplished dishes.
Blythe scores Orphans Kitchen
4.5/5 for food
4/5 for presentation
4.5/5 for service
4/5 for setting
giving an overall 17/20
I ate: Te Matuku Bay oysters, cauliflower, gurnard, sourdough ice cream
I drank: Quartz Reef sparkling, Mountford Estate 2013 white blend, Mountford 2005 chardonnay, oloroso, water, filter coffee
I wore: maroon shirt
Total bill: $131
Address: 118 Ponsonby Road, Grey Lynn, Auckland 1011