Dinner at Egmont Street Eatery was very good in parts – the rest was mostly broccolini. David Burton reports.
For years, The Spiaggia Cookbook has lain on my kitchen bookshelf, its recipes for lobster, truffles and osetra caviar more aspired to than used. So having learned that this legendary Chicago restaurant once employed the Egmont Street Eatery’s new chef Rob Essenburg, I was inspired to see what he could bring to Wellington.
As you might hope, there are American threads running through Essenburg’s highly eclectic menu: loaded fries and Cajun-creole dirty rice, for example, plus Parker House rolls.
While our roll lacked the classic folded oval shape (think a pair of sealed lips), it certainly had the correct buttery, fluffy texture, its faint suggestion of sweetness perfect with a curious little side of “chicken fat butter”, whipped into a fluffy mousse.
High-quality baking is almost a given for the Egmont Street Eatery, since its premises are also HQ to the Catering Studio, which supplies baked goods to cafes around town.
Thus, the three fingers of brioche ordered as an appetiser also perfectly captured the eggy, cakey essence of this bread. But for me the main attraction was their topping – pickled cucumber, crumbs of pancetta and “kina cream.” Kina remains kaimoana’s last frontier for many Pākehā, which may explain why its bizarre fruity-salty flavour had been well diluted.
Unusually for such a tiny restaurant, the upper level bar is bigger than the sunken neo-modernist dining area, which seats just 20. It’s comfortable enough (especially the fat, spongy banquette) but the tables are set so close together that you are privy to more of your neighbours’ sweet murmurings than either party would prefer. Staff need to crank up the music, especially when the topic turns to divorce.
The menu too is small, although vegetarians can’t complain about the lack of choice. Our vego entrée offered plenty of textural contrast, although its menu description (roasted carrot, freekeh wheat, greens, smoked nuts, sour cream) gave meagre indication that smokiness would rule.
While spring lamb ought to be available by now, our roasted rump veered more towards the aged, hearty flavour of hogget, albeit faultlessly tender. And though the menu listed Jerusalem artichokes, that season had now finished and instead we got broccolini plus an irrelevant sprinkling of julienned raw kale, its punishing texture akin to shredded cellophane. Oliver Cromwell would have loved it. True, there was also thick, creamy buttermilk, but the only real excitement in this dish was a palate jolt from the grandly named espelette, a mild Basque cultivar of chilli.
Orange-glazed duck is an absolute classic, though not often is it as crisp and fully infused with citric flavour as here. Its $45 price tag led us to confirm with the server that this indeed is a sharing dish, padded out with a bed of creamy lentils and – guess what? – broccolini.
Tradition demanded we drink pinot noir with this duck, though Egmont Street’s stumpy wine list offered only two by the glass. Schubert Selection Pinot Noir 2016, a parsimonious wee pour, was served in a tumbler with splotches from the dishwasher.
Being 15 years old, I assumed their Chateau du Breuil Calvados must be in short supply, which would explain the virtual thimbleful served with our Hazelnut Tart with Apple and Tea. The hazelnuts, peeled but set whole in fudge, resembled a miniaturised cross-section of ambrosial cobble stones.
I’ve been served some fairly icy versions in my time, but this Seville Orange Semifreddo clearly contained enough whipped cream and Italian meringue to ensure softness throughout. Offsetting the bittersweet Seville orange was a translucent garnish of glacé fennel, which ended this at-times patchy meal on a singularly sweet note.
EXPECT TO SEE MORE
• Custom vanity bowls in Corian and stone • Softer, organic looks for tapware and basins • Mineral-based basins and tops • Bespoke joinery and “floating” cabinetry • Natural and engineered timber veneers with
a matte finish • Large-format tiles and mosaics • Unconventional mix-and-match mosaics
and chevrons • More colour, notably inky blue, botanical
green, blush pink • Plants and vertical gardens • Contrasting grouting • Special lighting effects • Tapware with a metallic finish • Shower toilets
EXPECT TO SEE FEWER
• Purely utilitarian spaces • Hard, square-edged basins and tubs • Heavy-looking fixtures