Eye­brows raised

Imag­ine magic at this hum­ming new venue with a creative menu

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - RESTAURANT + WINE - Kim Knight

When uni­corns turn 10, they go to Low­brow and they or­der a deep-fried birth­day cake ice­cream sun­dae.

That’s ab­surd, right? Well so is a cake coated in donut. The out­side is crunchy, sug­ary cinnamon. The inside is a mar­bled, buttery madeira. It comes with a swirl of icy soft-serve, a pink wafer bis­cuit and a sprin­kle of tiny, pul­verised fairy dreams. Re­sis­tance is fu­tile.

I or­dered dessert ($9) be­cause my job made me. Some days, I re­ally love my job.

Dic­tio­nar­ies de­fine “low­brow” as mass-mar­ket and tabloid, not very cul­tured and in­tel­lec­tu­ally un­de­mand­ing. Kyle Street and Jor­dan Mac­Don­ald are clearly tak­ing the prover­bial, be­cause there is some clever (and thought­ful) cook­ing go­ing on here.

The pair be­hind the oh-so-good Cul­prit are the big­gest names to take up res­i­dency at the newly opened Queen’s Rise. The multi-eatery devel­op­ment on the first floor of Queen St’s his­toric Bank of New Zealand build­ing is a kind of posh food court. Each restau­rant gets its own space, but the very beau­ti­ful bath­rooms are shared.

When we vis­ited on a Fri­day lunchtime, the place was hum­ming and Low­brow was hum­ming louder than any­where else. I feared we’d be for­got­ten in the throng, es­pe­cially when the woman who seated us con­firmed that yes, they did ta­ble ser­vice, but no, she couldn’t ac­tu­ally serve our ta­ble, be­cause it was her first day on the job.

Soon af­ter, an ef­fi­cient woman took our or­der and later as­sured me I had not asked for a pork chop. I was so dis­ap­pointed in my­self. She must have sensed this. “Can I bring you a drink,” she asked. “Or some­thing that cooks quickly? To make up for the pork chop sit­u­a­tion.”

I re­solve to call my next band The Pork Chop Sit­u­a­tion. Low­brow in­spires this sort of ridicu­lous­ness — for ex­am­ple, if you pay $2 they will add a slice of “Amer­i­can cheese” to your or­der.

In the 1970s, “low­brow” was a by­word for the Los An­ge­les-based pop sur­re­al­ism art move­ment. Sub­ver­sive comics, punk mu­sic, puck­ish young men and women. It had a sense of hu­mour, and so does the restau­rant that has bor­rowed its nomen­cla­ture. Con­sider the “white bread tacos” — fried Cloudy Bay clams, ice­berg let­tuce and thou­sand is­land dress­ing (3 pieces for $10). The chips are “fast-food fries” in a plas­tic bas­ket with chicken salt and a malt vine­gar mayo ($6); they weren’t as crispy as the best shoe­strings I’ve had, but the flavour was su­pe­rior.

We or­dered a chicken wing apiece ($4 each) and I smiled at the slice of sand­wich white that had been de­ployed as a grease sop. In fact, they weren’t at all greasy; a slightly spicy coat­ing on a per­fectly crunchy tip and meaty drumette. The menu says they’re or­ganic Bo­s­tock brand and per­haps I am eas­ily in­flu­enced, but they tasted ex­tremely chick­eny. I ate two and didn’t use the fin­ger bowl.

They were out of smoked, pick­led brisket and the whole mar­ket fish ($29) was sole, which felt like a fid­dle to share among three, es­pe­cially since our “ta­ble” was ac­tu­ally a long ledge with ex­cel­lent views of of­fice groups on a lunch break. The work­ers’ wings ar­rived by the bucket and their sand­wiches (sesame seed po­tato rolls stuffed with, var­i­ously, chicken, brisket pat­ties, egg­plant and moz­zarella) were on metal plates. The sand­wiches dripped, glo­ri­ously. Don’t wear your good suit.

Low­brow has re­ally nailed its sauces and dress­ings. The grilled baby cos ($9) might sound like a veg­etable, but the re­al­ity is creamy, crispy, gar­licky, cheesy im­mer­sion ther­apy. You need to eat like this when it’s so cold out­side your wheelie-bin lid has frozen shut.

In lieu of the pork chop, we had the grilled rib­eye ($34) which was sen­sa­tional. The meat was seared medium rare and juicy and piled with cab­bage cooked in beef fat. The $6 shred­ded slaw with its pi­quant ap­ple cider dress­ing was a bril­liant (and sub­stan­tial for the price) re­fresher, but for the du­ra­tion of win­ter, I would pre­fer my cab­bage soft and melty with steak fat. Low­brow? I think that’s ab­so­lutely the point.

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