Photographs: David Straight
Phil’s Kitchen opened a couple of months ago in the space that was once Bouchon, a cheesily French restaurant that somehow changed dining in the city, mainly because it was loud and not very expensive and did a good coq au vin and crepes. On some levels, its replacement is brilliant. A simple, even plain, space, it still looks like a neighbourhood bistro: wooden tables, banquette seating; there is a very short and very well-priced wine list of four or five whites and four or five reds and a decent range of beers. Then the food arrives and smacks you in the head with its technical precision and its exuberance: a potato veloute ($14), say, is a soup of sublime simplicity that belies how difficult it is to make, a series of silkinesses if that is possible, the sweetness of the onion showing up the earthiness of the potato; it starts with the egg and finishes with a nutty buckwheat crunch.
We’ve also eaten smoked duck ($21), served with a tart reduction of doris plum and little eighths of beetroot, the earthy-smoky flavours combining beautifully on the plate with a scattering of white powder which, on tasting, reveals itself to be the dehydrated skin. There was roasted chicken ($38) with field mushrooms and a shamelessly rich truffle sauce, beautifully plated with spiky sprigs of thyme that somehow reminded me of the field from where the mushrooms came – though using breast was a curiously bland choice; I would have preferred the leg. Another time, for lunch, there was venison with barley risotto, celeriac puree, dehydrated brassica, soft pears and walnuts. It was seasonal and warming, and it looked stunning. Though you won’t eat any of this: they change the menu every night.
In short: extraordinary food in very plain surroundings, which is an entirely intriguing idea. The only issue is the price, with mains hovering in the late $30s, probably because they use prime cuts, which doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the joint. Push the cooking a bit further – surely this is one joint where you could do head cheese or pig’s trotters? – bring those prices down a touch, and Phil’s could be a winner. SFG
HOURS Lunch Friday & Saturday, 12pm to 10.30pm; Tuesday to Thursday from 5pm.
ADDRESS 479 New North Road, Kingsland, ph 849-7741. philskitchen.co.nz
IMPORTANT DETAILS They do a three-course lunch for $35 on Fridays and Saturdays.