Restaurant review: Culprit

by Simon Farrell-Green / 25 January, 2017

For the latest review, see the 2018 review of Culprit.

Serving up a new twist on yum cha proves a challenge.

You might recognise the two young men behind Culprit: Kyle Street and Jordan Macdonald used to be Al Brown’s lieutenants at Depot and The Fed. They left in early 2016 to start a restaurant in the space that used to be The Black Hoof and was a Korean restaurant before that.

It’s up a steep flight of stairs from Wyndham St, with high ceilings and casement windows. There are grey-painted brick walls and raking neon lights, macrocarpa tables and big woollen curtains; there’s an open kitchen so you can see Street’s trademark cap intently bent over the pass.

They’ve brought some great staff with them, including restaurant manager Nick Gallagher. The beer list is long but could do with a rev-up; the wine is great, and the cocktails are some of the best I’ve drunk anywhere.

The joint does what they’ve described as European yum cha. It’s not Chinese and it’s hard to get right. You order a couple of dishes off the menu and then take your pick from specials, which staff bring around on trays and nice black-steel trolleys. There are three sittings — at 6pm, 7pm and 8pm — and the trolleys come out about 10 minutes in, so don’t be late.

With actual yum cha, the food keeps coming until you feel like stopping. At Culprit, you’re either in danger of ordering too little — based on the advice from our waiter that one or two dishes off the menu is enough — or  too much, as I did on my second visit in some over-compensatory need to not leave hungry.

You feel like you have too many waiters, and you watch them negotiating the trolleys around the furniture: on our first visit, they moved the same empty table seven or eight times. You find yourself anxiously looking out for the next dish rather than the one you have in front of you. If you run late, your waiter might be trying to take your drinks order, only to get barged in on by another waiter with a trolley, at which point he might tell her crossly to wait.

I’ve eaten some terrific dishes at Culprit, and many of them used offal and secondary cuts. But I’ve also eaten some dishes that weren’t as good. The food was mostly perfectly balanced and mostly perfectly seasoned — a hallmark of Street’s oversight at Depot — except when it wasn’t. And the only way I can account for this is the sheer complexity of managing, by my count, a menu of 28 dishes including yum cha and desserts.

They range from a sublime kokonda — a perfect balance of coconut, citrus and avocado, with just the right amount of chilli — to a dish of fleshy heritage tomatoes and Matariki cheese that was made with overly squishy, slightly tasteless tomatoes. There is a singularly genius dish of courgette on courgette, which is a tempura courgette flower served on courgette purée with pine nuts and goats’ curd, sweet and springy with a lovely tartness from the curd. But the steak tartare needed salt and came with soft, slightly bendy waffle-cut crisps.

I cannot recommend the duck parfait highly enough — it comes with sweet little doughnuts that you tear open and smear with silky, airy parfait — and please do order the duck and squash tortellini in a glass with a bassy, clear duck consommé (though remember it needs a good pinch of salt). And recently, I ate a dish of bavette, cooked perfectly to rare-medium-rare, served with creamed corn and a big pile of summery corn, courgettes and capsicum along with great big pieces of basil, stalk and all. It was deceptively simple, the kind of thrown-together dish that is anything but.

But we really need to talk about the Pig Face, which is slow-cooked and unctuous and comes with bitter radicchio leaves, apple, pork crackling puff and something heavenly which they call “pan sauce”. It is at once porky and bitter and sweet and salty and crunchy and fatty. It’s gutsy cooking, meaty, and no doubt using a lot of butter — but that’s okay. I just think they should trust that to be a truly great restaurant, this is more than enough.

Culprit
12 Wyndham St, central city.
Ph 377-5992. culprit.co.nz
Hours: Summer lunch, Thursday & Friday; dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm.
Dinner bill: Yum cha $3-$12; mid-size plates $12-$20; mains $28-$38; desserts $9.

 


Read: How we review

 

This article was first published in the January- February 2017 issue of Metro. Follow Metro on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to the weekly e-mail

Latest

Mr Wiki: Mike Dickison is NZ's first Wikipedian at large
96030 2018-09-18 00:00:00Z Tech

Mr Wiki: Mike Dickison is NZ's first Wikipedian at…

by Elisabeth Easther

The entomologist will work on outreach programmes and recruiting editors to improve the sparse coverage of New Zealand topics.

Read more
Contemporary new cafe, Browne St, opens in Avondale
96454 2018-09-17 15:08:36Z Auckland Eats

Contemporary new cafe, Browne St, opens in Avondal…

by Alex Blackwood

New cafe, Browne St, combines Avondale's heritage with a modern fit-out.

Read more
The women's suffrage movement wasn't only a fight for the right to vote
96444 2018-09-17 12:23:48Z History

The women's suffrage movement wasn't only a fight …

by Sally Blundell

Suffrage was a stepping stone to other major social reforms for women.

Read more
Euthanasia: Australia is on the move
96401 2018-09-17 09:51:18Z Social issues

Euthanasia: Australia is on the move

by Graham Adams

Anyone keen to see assisted dying laws passed in New Zealand will be heartened by the increasing momentum of campaigns across the Tasman.

Read more
Broadcaster Heather du Plessis-Allan stands by her Pacific 'leeches' claim
96392 2018-09-17 06:30:40Z Social issues

Broadcaster Heather du Plessis-Allan stands by her…

by Colin Peacock

How some New Zealanders regard their Pacific neighbours was laid bare last week with comments from a radio host that she 'doubled down' on.

Read more
The rise of the German far right doesn't chime with Berlin's open-mindedness
96328 2018-09-17 00:00:00Z World

The rise of the German far right doesn't chime wit…

by Bill Ralston

Bill Ralston writes from Berlin, where the far-right party Alternative for Germany has failed to take root.

Read more
Why enjoyment and fitness rather than weight loss should be your exercise goals
95992 2018-09-17 00:00:00Z Health

Why enjoyment and fitness rather than weight loss …

by Donna Chisholm

Exercise physiologist Matt Wood has these suggestions to keep up your muscle strength.

Read more
The English are masters of irony – just look at Jeremy Corbyn
96323 2018-09-16 00:00:00Z World

The English are masters of irony – just look at Je…

by Andrew Anthony

It was recently revealed that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said that Zionists “don’t understand English irony”, which is kind of ironic.

Read more