Metro restaurant critic Kate Richards finds the newest creation from the owners of Top 50 restaurant Culprit is deft with a deep fryer - and that's a good thing.
I’m not sure how kind summer’s been to Lowbrow, occupying the back left-hand corner of Queen’s Rise — the posh food court up an escalator off Queen St. Built in the 1980s, the space has had a major renovation to be fit for purpose, but as nice a job as Sydney-based architects Alexander & Co have done, even our waiter joked that he rarely knows what the weather’s like outside until he leaves work.
This fast-paced, short-order restaurant is the latest from Jordan Macdonald and Kyle Street of Metro Top 50 restaurant Culprit, a stone’s throw away on Wyndham St. Both share a similar aesthetic: Lowbrow is fronted by a bold black-framed roller door, with tables spilling out onto a would-be shared space, only — somewhat irritatingly — at this food court you can dine from only one restaurant at a time. The concept would work much better with a communal seating area so you could order from separate restaurants but eat together.
Not that it particularly matters for Lowbrow. The offbeat décor (inspired by the 1970s “lowbrow” art movement), fancy junk-food menu and curated playlists easily make it the most exciting offering in a place that is also home to yet another poke bar and a cafe that forgot it’s not 2003 so still puts salads in mason jars.
I love the wine list — full of easy-drinking natural drops from New Zealand, France and Australia, such as the “wine of the moment” I had on one visit: a dry, barrel-fermented rosé made using Adelaide-grown shiraz. When I asked the host to surprise me with a glass of something similar, she sent a great, slightly funky Rhône Valley rosé. Sadly, I found that out only after asking, because a different waiter brought the wine to the table and walked off without explanation.
Service is mixed. There’s the enthusiastic young guy from our first visit who remembered the specials and staggered our large lunch order appropriately; the host who sent all our food out at once so, as we played plate-Tetris, some stuff went cold before we had a chance to eat it; and ponytail girl who misheard one of our orders (the music is loud), sending chicken instead of eggplant. It happens, and they fixed it, but she also didn’t deliver our drinks until roughly 15 minutes after we ordered them — a missed upsell because we’d have had a second round if they’d come sooner.
Food-wise, you’re best off succumbing to the fryer: a hot fish sandwich was one of the best I’ve eaten, with its delicate batter and sharp pickles, whereas grilled baby cos was fine for the first few bites, before becoming an overdressed plate of cold, soggy lettuce. Actually, at a restaurant clearly keen to appear progressive, vegetarians won’t have as much fun as meat eaters. The gooey Italian-ish eggplant sandwich holds its own, but offering pasta puttanesca next to a load of sinful meat dishes feels borderline satanic, no matter how good it is.
Almost every omnivore seems to order the chicken wings, and they’re good: juicy, a secret sourness to cut the fat, and happily un-greasy. But can we stop calling things hot unless they actually are? I’m not even hardcore, but they were medium at best.
On the lighter end of things, Lowbrow does a great ceviche; hand-cut market fish atop creamy guacamole is punctuated with pickled onion and sriracha. Practically, the cracker it sits on sucks, falling apart after one bite, but I loved the nowhere-to-hide attitude the dish shares with most other things on the menu.
This commitment to honest food made it all the more disappointing to discover some L’ Estrange-Corbet-marketing when it came to dessert. A pretzel and caramel sundae made using Tatua soft-serve mix was salty-sweet fun. But the mix is not organic or free range, as listed on the menu. I know because I googled it, then emailed Lowbrow to check.
That mistruth aside, I’d go anyway. I quite enjoyed dining in the dark — it was easier to inconspicuously overeat, and this is somewhere you’ll want to.
Queen’s Rise, 125 Queen St. Ph 379-9285. lowbrow.co.nz
Hours: Mon-Fri, 7am–10pm; Sat-Sun, 9am–10pm.
Dinner bill: Small $9-$14; large $20-$34; sides $4-$9; sandwiches $13-$18; desserts $9-$18.