“Definitely preferred the Trevally.”
“Yeah… I reckon that Steak was pretty sweet.”
“…I just like that we eat.”
Thus ended our family birthday dinner at Orphans Kitchen, my younger brother springing up with some peculiarly deep angst. But obscurely appropriate! Although it strives to be reduced, Orphans is certainly not lowbrow eating. Fast becoming a popular Ponsonby eatery, the vibe, the wait staff, the feel, and especially the food successfully execute the famed stereotype of the area.
Photo Cred // Concrete Playground
What struck me immediately was the purposely-insignificant entrance. As I hold the door for my family (yeah, I'm a gentleman, and what), the little bro’s all, “Thought we were going to Orphans,” leading me to point out the Times New Roman type on the door announcing ‘Orphans Kitchen’. For the new big thing in Ponsonby Road eating, Orphans has the most understated entrance possible. Without Google-ing this place, it’s unlikely you’d actually find it. No front desk or flashy signage, just a plain front door with medium sized bay windows. Inside it looks like a science classroom meets a hunting lodge. Wooden floors, jagged wooden tables jutting from the walls, high ceilings, vast bare spaces. There’s even an old school OHP projecting the menu onto one of the walls. It’s not cozy, but it’s cool.
Photo Cred // The Denizen
The waiters don’t have a uniform; you see corduroy and crew neck sweaters, an unspoken dress code making it look like we’re going for dinner at a friend’s rural retreat. It’s very wintry. The style follows suit, waiters are friendly - not in the pushy ‘please like me’ way, but in the experienced ‘I know my shit, let’s talk food’ kind of way. They seem genuinely enthusiastic about the food. What I liked most was the acceptance from the staff that this food is, to a degree, unusual and requiring of explanation. When food was delivered it always came with a detailed description of what it was. So, when we ate the complimentary bread, we knew it was flavoured with Kawakawa (apparently a native NZ herb) served with burnt butter and rock salt ash. There seemed to be science right from the go; starting with the detail of the food, carried by the precise minimalism of the interior and embodied in the beaker provided to serve our wine. From the start they had me hooked. Not necessarily in the palm of their hands, just interested to see what the hell was coming next.
What did come next was extraordinary. Unlike others following the ‘share plates’ trend (some who fail miserably), Orphans does it really well. The dishes are all fantastic and are all a delight to eat. However, what makes this special is that Orphans understands the complexity of their dishes. They give you enough so that you get an enjoyable amount of the meal but not an overload of unfamiliar flavours, which could put you off completely. So when you eat the rye gnocchi you experience the twist on traditional Italian, you get the earthy shiitake mushrooms and the rich shaved truffles with a poached egg perfectly poised on top - but you don’t drown in it. The monkfish, another great dish, marries beautifully cooked fleshy fish with a side of silky Jerusalem artichoke purée - but it’s never too much. Even the sublime desserts, like the decadent Valrhona chocolate with tamarillo, amaze and finalize without being punitive.
Photo Cred // The Denizen
There’s no chance of a food coma. Moreover there’s no need for a food coma, it’s all crafted with a totality in mind. Where other Ponsonby Road favourites focus on flamboyance, Orphans chooses instead to focus on giving you an experience. The theatre is in its totality. Yet, Orphans isn’t quite completely unique, but is unique enough to be Ponsonby. Regardless of their attempts to be understated and reduced, (and hence differing in that regard) overall it really does still buck the trend. It’s cool, it’s expensive, our waiter had a very well groomed moustache, the wine is nearly entirely foreign. Orphans Kitchen is interesting both at concept and at essence - it differs in that it’s minimalistic with unusual ingredients, but it complies in that there’s polish, and really, really goddamn great food.
Title Photo creed // Orphans Kitchen Instagram