First Look: Culprit
Words by Alice Harbourne, photos by Caitlin McKone.
Kyle Street and Jordan Macdonald’s new restaurant changes the rules of dining in Auckland.
Kyle Street and Jordan Macdonald’s first restaurant is located in a cavernous, exposed brick loft above Metro top 50 cafe Misters on Wyndham St, a space formerly occupied by The Black Hoof. Five weeks ago, I met the ex-Depot and Federal Delicatessen chef duo there, in what was an echoey, dusty room surrounded by mounds of boxes. From these boxes, Street and Macdonald enacted an excitable show-and-tell, proferring sample crockery (dainty ceramics handmade by Morgan Haines), menu designs (created in collaboration with Studio South) and fit-out plans (designed with prolific restaurant designer Kirsty Mitchell).
Tangible manifestations of the concept are pretty helpful when describing Culprit, because it’s unlike any other restaurant in Auckland. So I’ll start with the trolley. It’s powder-coated black with bright pink wheels, and has three-tiers which can be lifted out and used as trays. It was custom-made by Jimmy’s Handbuilt to serve Culprit’s “seasonal tastes and bites”, yum cha-style. During service – which takes place in two sittings, 6pm and 8pm – trolleys and trays are presented to diners at beautifully tactile, laminated macrocarpa tables. They can say “yes please!” or “no thanks!” to the individually priced dishes, and their yum cha order is card marked accordingly. On top of a literally rolling succession of bites, larger dishes can be ordered for the table, alongside oysters, offal and other delicacies.
Street describes Culprit’s style of cuisine as an evolution of his and Macdonald’s experience as students of Al Brown.”We’re serving food that’s designed to be shared, but doing it our way,” he says. Research trips to San Francisco for the Fed specifically informed the concept when the duo discovered fusion yum cha restaurant State Bird Provisions.
Having observed Street work over the years, I’ve always been struck by how logically he approaches the plate: layers of flavour seem mathematically calibrated to pop on the palate, and in practical terms he’s master of the production line. Culprit’s ordering style is therefore a dream, for both him and Macdonald, who can approach service like catering a banquet, preparing dishes from scratch just a few hours – sometimes minutes – before they’re served.
Street and Macdonald work directly with local suppliers like The Secret Garden to champion under-utilised produce. While most chefs are nabbing edible flowers from the Patumahoe-based growers, Culprit take unwanted mature leaves and whip them up into a mean side salad. The same goes for meat: aged bavette steak is wood-fired and served with yorkshire pudding and hollandaise; while serving pork face helps avoid the queue for belly.
The structured services, which run Tuesday through to Saturday, mean there’s a sense of ceremony to each sitting. It also means it’s wise to book, says restaurant manager (and Metro Peugeot Restaurant Personality of the Year 2016) Nick Gallagher. “Because a lot of us are ex-Depot and Fed, people will associate us with a no booking policy, so we’re expecting some people will probably just turn up.” If there’s space, those people won’t be turned away, but may miss a course or two.
Adding to the sense of occasion is the spectacular wine list Gallagher and Macdonald have curated, almost all of which is available by the glass. There’s also a list of classic cocktails, and Brothers Beer on tap, alongside a rotating guest tap for other local indie breweries.
Street and Macdonald will tell you that Culprit owes its existence to many other people before accepting full credit; they feel indebted to Al Brown who has supported them from the start. A relatively small budget has been maximised by strong industry relationships and the resourcefulness of many. But to attract such a team with a few boxes of ideas? It’s all down to them, and in that dusty room in September, I was already sold.
Following Metro and Gather and Hunt’s reader event First Taste, Culprit officially opens to the public on Tuesday 11 October. Booking advised, click here.
12 Wyndham St