Photographs: David Straight
Orphans Kitchen is the kind of place that opens and you like it so much it induces a mild anxiety: if this wasn’t here, where would I eat? It’s owned by two nice young fellows – Josh Helm and Tom Hishon – who bought the late, great Ella Cafe a few months back, stripped the place out and installed high, macrocarpa-topped tables with industrial stools: there are sheepskin seat covers, which we like very much. It’s brightly lit yet warm, and the service is charmingly lowkey and friendly. They have Brothers Beer making their beer and there is a daily list of “bin ends” on a big roll of brown paper – Helm used to work in wine, and it shows in the list.
All of which would count for nothing in a city heaving with new openings if the food wasn’t so blissfully enchanting. It professes to be casual, but it’s not – it’s complex, nuanced, finely balanced food; Hishon has worked in some of the city’s finest kitchens and it shows. “Smaller” plates are $15; “Larger” are $25 – you can share, or not, but everything is good on the menu that changes depending on what they can get hold of.
Recently we’ve eaten: yellowtail tuna belly with grapefruit and persimmon, which was delicate and balanced; Brussels sprout cups with goats curd; rye gnocchi with egg, sage, hazelnut and Jerusalem artichokes, all nutty and savoury; a hapuku wing, grilled just so and served up with fennel and Borlotti beans. We’ve also eaten an excellent cheeseboard and an astonishing valhrona chocolate delice with tamarillos. We ate sardines, lightly roasted and accompanied by poached mandarin, fennel and salty olives. But more than anything, you must have the wild boar boil up – the stock is silky, almost ramen-like, the boar is fall-apart tender and it comes with cress, a piece of perfect kumara and a scattering of flax seeds. Sublime cooking in a casual restaurant? Keep an eye on these two, they deserve to go a long way. SFG
HOURS Dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 5.30.
ADDRESS 118 Ponsonby Road, ph 378 7979. facebook.com/OrphansKitchen
IMPORTANT DETAILS No bookings.