15/20 1/5 Eva St, City 04 385 7274, shep­her­drestau­ Din­ner Wed-Sun Mains $25-$32

Cuisine - - RESTAURANTS -

SHEP­HERD IS NAMED for its co-owner, chef Shep­herd El­liot (Ti Kouka café, Leeds St Bak­ery), but there’s a sense too in which din­ers are herded here, in the sense of steer­age into fresh pas­tures not pre­vi­ously vis­ited. Sit­u­ated in a now fa­mous court­yard sur­rounded on all sides by the Han­nahs apart­ment build­ing, Pizza Po­modoro, Gold­ing’s Free Dive, Hang­ing Ditch and the Welling­ton Cho­co­late Fac­tory, the restau­rant lies at Welly’s epi­cen­tre of hip. So please do not ex­pect crème brulee, steak bear­naise and frites. Rather, please do be pre­pared for creamed net­tle and kawakawa jelly. Sus­tain­ably har­vested beech for­est wasp pu­pae may even­tu­ally fol­low.

Ac­tu­ally, the bark tends to be worse than the bite. There’s not an over­pow­er­ing eu­ca­lyp­tus flavour in the kawakawa jelly, and even the pine cur­ing of salmon it ac­com­pa­nies is ex­tremely sub­tle. Scat­tered dill fronds are en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate, you can han­dle the heavy smok­ing of small dabs of egg­plant puree, and even with­stand the provo­ca­tion of tiny cubes of meringue.

Shep­herd El­liot’s avowed in­ten­tion here is to pro­vide some­thing dif­fer­ent, and this is done by mix­ing East and West on a scale not seen since the height of fu­sion 20 years ago. Added to this is the con­tem­po­rary taste for raw and healthy plant-based food. Chunks of pump­kin may not be too ex­cit­ing to a meatar­ian, but they’re just car­ri­ers for a plate­ful of spiky adorn­ments – salsa verde, con­fit gar­lic, smoked yo­ghurt, finely chopped lime pickle, seeds and chopped al­monds. El­liot be­ing a cham­pion of the anti-food-waste move­ment, his crown­ing cres­cent of pump­kin skin is crisp enough to be eaten.

Beef of the day varies, but is typ­i­cally a sec­ondary cut, on this evening beef brisket, al­most cer­tainly slow-cooked sous-vide: tender, yet still tasty and juicy. A brined yolk sat ready to be spilled over pick­led red cab­bage, egg­plant chut­ney and roast onion puree.

The ser­vice staff seem pre­dom­i­nantly charm­ing, so­phis­ti­cated young men with beards, ever ready to ad­vise on a match from their full in­ter­na­tional wine list and even big­ger beer list.

Even the desserts man­age to be dif­fer­ent. The tart­ness of tamar­illo seems ready-made to flavour ice cream (yet com­mer­cially speak­ing, it doesn’t). Served un­usu­ally as a long thin bar on a beau­ti­ful turquoise pot­tery plat­ter, it’s sprin­kled with crum­bled co­coa nib and driz­zled with Is­land Bay honey, ex­cep­tion­ally strong and sweet. The cho­co­late ganache for a salted oat crust is ren­dered bit­ter­sweet with dark beer, and ac­com­pa­nied with cubes of cof­fee jelly and co­coa nib whipped cream.

Al­most by de­sign, Shep­herd de­fies easy clas­si­fi­ca­tion as ei­ther a bar or a restau­rant. The well-con­sid­ered com­bi­na­tion of in­gre­di­ents and re­fined tech­niques from the world over speaks of fine din­ing, and cer­tainly the por­tions are of­ten as small as the prices are steep.

How­ever, the en­vi­ron­ment in which you eat is all things to all peo­ple. You can sit among the com­fort­able chairs on the lower din­ing level, or perch on the high bar stools of the main floor for a snack and a drink. There’s no obli­ga­tion ei­ther way, and the nap­kins – floppy linen tea tow­els cut in half and re-hemmed – are al­most an em­blem of the am­bi­gu­ity. DAVID BUR­TON

TOP Pine-cured salmon, smoked egg­plant and kawakawa jelly at Shep­herd ABOVE Shep­herd’s in­te­rior

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