There are new openings, and then there are new openings. Culprit. has swung open its doors this evening with a lot resting on their shoulders. Why? Well, the duo behind it are none other than Kyle Street and Jordan MacDonald, formerly of Depot and The Fed. And, for those that are accustomed to the fast-paced eateries, that never fault on their offerings, you’ll be most likely to expect nothing less from the pair that have honed their craft under the formidable, Al Brown. Aside from that, they’re known in the foodie community to be leaders of the pack. They dream up dishes that haven’t been heard of, and use cuts of meat and other produce that isn’t typical, and cook it in ways you wish were typical—it’s a lot of pressure.
Situated on Wynyard Street, it’s a destination that will be missed with a blink of the eye. The sign is incredibly discreet. Once you find it, climb up a flight of stairs and you’ll be welcomed by the gracious and warm restaurant manager, Nick Gallagher. The kitchen is on show alongside the bustling bar. Stark, white brick walls contrast with the roof’s exposed wooden beams. All seems relatively regular, right? It is, until you notice the black steel trolley being wheeled around. Welcome to the world of fusion yum cha.
Each night Street and MacDonald will create small plates highlighting seasonal produce, championing the bounty of seafood and meats this fair country has to offer. Take the beef tartare: the flat iron steak is so tender and the flavour of pickles, mustard, capers and citrus so beautifully balanced. Topped with a sour cream panna cotta, a sprinkling of chives and served alongside criss-cross cut chips, this is one take on steak and potatoes that’s simply unforgettable. The sweet and tangy Curious Croppers’ tomatoes are simply dressed with oil and served alongside dehydrated olives and salami-cured cheese. Warm clams are tossed with pepperoni—think of these dishes as your amuse bouche—the dishes to get you warmed up for the main affair. Grab a few to share with your table, or be greedy and savour each to yourself.
Of course, there is a menu, showcasing the larger dishes on offer. To start, there’s local oysters alongside shallot vinegar, Bloody Mary and lemon. Or, there’s silky chicken liver parfait accompanied with doughnuts, pinot syrup and young chard. Bone marrow is grilled with cheese and paired with sweet and sour pickles, shallots and mustard leaf.
To share, there’s the Southland mutton tagine, which incredibly tender and paired with pita, couscous, date and tomato salad and yoghurt. There’s braised pork face. Yes, face! If you can eat belly and leg, you can eat face. And it’s glorious. It is served with bitter leaves, apple, pork puff and pan sauce. And the Culprit roast beef almost puts any other roast you’ve ever tried to shame! It’s wood-fired aged bavette and served with greens, yorkshire pudding and hollandaise.
Culprit is one of those eateries you know isn’t going to make a bang and dwindle into the abyss. They’re undoubtedly starting strong (as a lot of eateries do), but the difference here, is the clever way in which they’ve designed what they can offer. Daily changes, seasonal shifts and exacting experimentation will keep them set apart from the rest and firmly cement them into the Auckland gastronomy scene. And...if you’re wondering if they lived up to the pressure. Well, that would be a firm yes!
Image credit: Lauren Matilda Matthews