Imagine magic at this humming new venue with a creative menu
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.