Apr 8, 2013 Restaurants
Address: 41 Shortland St.
Ph 022 088- 5965. Facebook.com/TheHamptonsPopUp.
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11am-10.30pm.
Dinner bill: Casual bar food $6-$11; main plates $16-$30; sweets $9-$15.
By Jesse Mulligan, March 2013.
I ate my way through Brisbane over the summer, and loved it. Queensland restaurants sprawl out of buildings and over patios, gardens and footpaths. Sitting under the stars in windless humidity, it’s easy to wonder why we don’t open things up in New Zealand more often.
The Hamptons is all outdoors, with a partial awning, and it takes only five minutes to remember why roofless eating hasn’t caught on here. The gentlest summer breeze brings goosebumps after dark in Auckland, and with no gas heaters or blankets, the cold can distract you from the largely excellent food and drink. So, that’s easily enough solved — bring something with sleeves. The Hamptons is a pop-up establishment after all, and we shouldn’t complain if it’s missing some of the luxuries of permanence, like walls.
A bit of planning can solve the other problem too: how to order. Everything about the menu suggests sharing plates (“family-style” is the LA phrase), so you choose half a dozen dishes and the waitress plonks them on your picnic table in no particular order, but with no serving plates. You have to lift mouthfuls of the various food items (not easy stuff: soup, prawn cocktail, beef brisket) from where they’re sitting in the middle of the table to your mouth. If you drop something, you might have to watch it slide through the gaps in the table and onto your lap.
So forget family style and order libertarian style: sharing is for communists. Dress warm, don’t expect much charm from the floor staff, and you’ll have a very good time. Essentially a bar you can eat dinner at, The Hamptons is a nice space — a couple of kitschy resort cabins for the bar and kitchen, with summer colours completing the look. The Clooney team are behind it, but, if Sale St is Manhattan, this isn’t exactly the seaside resort equivalent — the food is much more straightforward and the service has none of the energy or expertise.
That food is tasty though. Nothing much to the hotdog except a wiener topped with chilli mince and mustard, but I don’t think I could visit again and not order it. Spicy fish ceviche in cos leaves is a popular choice, and I’d go back for the perfectly slow-cooked brisket — though I could do without the ornamental rib bone. Avoid the corn — you’ll cook it better at home and won’t have to suck down a bed of sweetcorn purée. But cold green tomato gazpacho is one of the loveliest dishes in town — you pour it from a bottle over a little collection of differently textured ingredients… tomatoes, sour cream, croutons. It’s a fantastically conceived dish.
The press release says The Hamptons will be open only until the end of May. Normally, I’d suspect they were testing the waters for something more abiding but, if that’s the case, they haven’t told their staff. On a quiet night, we heard the chefs trading ideas about what they’d do when June rolled around. The waitresses are young, forgetful and often disengaged — the sort of people you get when you’re offering only a first semester commitment.
Food aside, The Hamptons seems purpose built for good drinking and bad decisions. If I was a Shortland St lawyer, I’d be well up for an afternoon necking mojitos in the sun, generously buying hotdogs for any comely legal exec fortunate enough to nudge up against my picnic table. For everyone else, it’s just a nice place to settle on when meeting a friend in the city, with the option of trading up to a barrister if those cocktails hit the right spot.