Instead of our usual gathering at someone’s home and being cooked for we decided to head out for dinner for our monthly Cuisine Club to check out a new restaurant on the Auckland dining scene.
We settled on Woodpecker Hill, Parnell’s newest culinary destination after hearing lots of chatter about this new spot.
We arrived at 8pm to a certifiable hustle and bustle. A dimly lit, sumptuously decorated space; cosy, warm and grand – think oversized pendant lights in shiny copper, ‘bear-skin’-backed round booth seats under gigantic conch shell lights, a lot of wood, dark steel and comfort in abundance. Varying seating options included the aforementioned booths, small intimate tables with bench seats or chairs and an elevated area up the back, as well as a long bar housing an extensive range of alcohol along the back wall.
The wine list was exhausting, too long for even the connoisseurs amongst our number (of which I am not one!) They eventually reached a verdict and it came time to inspect the menu.
Here is where it got a little crazy. The decor, the name of the restaurant, the music (I will come to that later) and the overall vibe of the establishment, including its website which I had briefly looked at before visiting, logo, fonts used on the menu and the neon sign at the back of the restaurant, screamed BBQ, smokey meat, lodge, mountain cabin, Colorado.
So imagine my surprise when I perused the paper menu in front of me – and discovered it was none other than Asian fusion sharing plate style cuisine, family style food that comes out whenever it’s ready from the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, I adore this style of eating, this style of food, but it was completely not what I was expecting, so it took a couple of minutes to wrap my head around the disconnect.
Menu items all sounded incredible and upon the recommendation of our gorgeous waitress with the cutest French accent, we ordered 3 small dishes and 3 main sized plates and sat back and waited for them to arrive.
They came thick and fast and for the most part, we chose well:
– Crispy eggplant, tamarind, corinader, chilli, sesame
– Roasted cauliflower, green peppercorns, lemon, Vietnamese mint, chilli jam
– Salt-and-pepper school prawns
– Char-grilled soy duck, tamarind and roasted rice dressing
– Spiced curry of burnt ends, lemongrass, fried shallots, Vietnamese mint and lime
– Soft-shell crab, stir fried with turmeric, chilli, tamarind, crispy shallots
And to finish off, we shared
– Sticky black rice, coconut ice cream, honey comb, dark chocolate, banana
The stand outs for the entire table were the Burnt Ends (essentially the exposed portion of the brisket which has been smoked for fourteen hours and transformed then into an incredible flavourful curry) ~ hands down my favourite. But following close behind was the Soft Shell Crab. Flavour sensation! Amazing. The crispy eggplant was a big hit and I also loved the roasted cauliflower.
Let downs were the duck – I’m not much of a duck eater so I didn’t have much to say about this one, but the duck lovers at the table said it was disappointing. The lack of flavour was apparent after the amazing flavour sensations of the other dishes we enjoyed. The school prawns were also a let down for me because I loooooove prawns and these were little guys with the shells still on and as a result were quite dry to eat. Although their flavour was enjoyable, they needed a dipping sauce of some kind to really work.
The dessert was the perfect way to end the meal and a couple of spoonfuls each was all we needed since we were stuffed from dinner. The coconut icecream accompanying the rice pudding was smooth, not overly sweet and just right.
Our total bill came to $203 which included a $52 bottle of wine so it was a super affordable meal for five of us. I was very impressed by that, and we were all really full at the end of the meal.
So, I told you earlier I’d tell you more about the music. Usually I don’t notice music much at a restaurant as it’s generally pretty ambient or non-descript, just filling empty space and providing some sense of environment right? Well last night we were treated to the sounds of Usher “You Make me Wanna”, TLC’s “Diggin’ on You” as well as “Red Light Special”, Mace “Tell Me What You Want from Me?” which all took me back to the late 90’s when those songs were on heavy rotation! There was also an Eagles number thrown in for good measure and a little Bob Marley and some Smokey Robinson – it just felt like a very odd playlist for the scene. Didn’t stop me having a little groove in my seat though and I kept my fellow diners entertained with my running commentary on the tunes.
The bathrooms were fabulous! Seriously cool. I took a selfie in the bathroom (as you do) but it didn’t adequately capture the custom-made decor (which was impressive).
It was a great night out and highly enjoyable. We talked mostly about The Bachelor which 4 of the 5 of us present swore we were not even going to watch (!) and although I will come back on a date night with my husband, just for repeat enjoyment of that soft-shelled crab and the burnt ends, I have to say that I feel like this style of restaurant has been overdone already in Auckland so while the decor and style of the place was new and exciting, the menu, though delicious, is nothing new – I can think of 3 other establishments on Ponsonby Road that fit this bill entirely – although maybe Parnell needed it’s own version and to that end, Woodpecker Hill fills a void.
Have you been? What was your favourite dish? Or if you haven’t, what’s your favourite restaurant at the moment?
*images of Woodpecker Hill are taken from the website. There are no photos of the food because we all know how hard it is to capture justifiably good shots in dimly lit restaurants.