We had one of the most incredible and memorable dining experiences on Saturday night. A last minute decision to head out for dinner on a “date night” led to a night reminiscent of hazy Saturday nights in London; bumping into friends, standing on the street drinking wine out of tumblers and some of the best and most exciting food I have had in a long while. It’s taken me a couple of days to gather my thoughts and settle my excitement, when there is so much to love (from the New York style subway tiles and distressed wood floors, to the wine on tap and of course the food) there is a lot to untangle.
Depot in Auckland’s Federal St is the new abode of Wellington food scene’s constant, Al Brown. I haven’t eaten at any of Al Browns other restaurants yet, although I have long been a fan of his approach to food and hospitality, with emphasis on fresh, responsible and local. Reading his website this morning I am drawn to this quote that sums up completely our evening: “at the end of the day, sharing food, trading stories and having a laugh with good people is what it’s all about.”.
Depot does not take bookings, so we rocked up to put our names on the list and after a sneaky cocktail next door at Red Hummingbird (Luke Dallow’s new joint), we settled in outside with a carafe of the pinot on tap and a couple of tumblers to fantasise about what was to come. And we were not disappointed. As soon as we were seated at our table, Al Brown himself came along and suggested some starters – oysters, tortillas with baba ganoush and one of the highlights of the night – turbot sliders. Two of us shared 3 each of the Tio Point and Orongo Bay oysters, accompanied by a Chardonnay vinegar and shallots. The oysters were exactly as described, Orongo Bay were sweet and creamy and the Tio Point a bit more salty with a mineraly finish. The other two non oyster eaters finished up the tortillas. And then the sliders. Sliders are a phenomenon that don’t appear nearly enough on Kiwi menus, and these were a great example, a soft bun, crispy piece of turbot with a tangy mayonnaise. There may have been more to them but we didn’t wait long enough to find out before they were scoffed.
Second round of dinner, as suggested by the gorgeous waitress (I wish I had got her name because her recommendations were spot on) : falafels – crunchy, with whole chickpeas and harissa and a tangy goats curd; snapper tacos – like the sliders, scoffed too fast to notice what was in them, but so good I think they will be a lunchtime favourite any day I can sneak out of the office; roasted pork hock with apple and horseradish and amazing pressed crispy pieces of crackling (what is it about crackling…?); and the ultimate taste sensation – smoked beef brisket with rice and red beans. The smoky flavour of this piece of beef was intense – I think we spotted pieces of chorizo which would have something to do with it.
Desert was gingerbread with tamarillo, and Sugar Pie, which, as Al Brown told us during one of his multiple visits to our table during the night, is from a recipe he was given by another chef in French Canada. This pie was amazing. Like a sweet custard, apparently slow cooked in the shell to make a buttery caramelly sensation. I tried to recreate this pie the following day, but my pie tin leaked and the custart didn’t set – so stay posted later this week for an update on this when I try again.
I can’t really say more about the food – it was outstanding, simple but tasted amazing and the enthusiasm for the food and the stories behind it were infectious. There’s no pretence here – it was a serve and share type meal, with a really casual feel – the place was chocka – we had to wait for the Prime Minister to vacate his table before we could sit – which also helped with the bustling atmosphere. I would love to go back and spend some more time chatting with Al Brown about his food while he is still hanging about in Auckland, but one would imagine that the place will be a bit busy for that over the coming weeks. I just hope it’s not so busy that I can’t get another fix of those tacos!!
86 Federal Street,
Auckland 1010, NZ
09 363 7048
PS – apologies for lack of photos. I did try and take some on my phone, but we were so into the food, a couple of the courses we had eaten before I remembered to capture.