If you slip down Federal Street between the Sky City’s valet parking entrance and Sky Grand’s entrance you’ll see a raft of new restaurants and bars spear headed by celebrity chefs and bursting with happy diners. It’s easy to miss though if you’re not a regular to the casino or one of the inner city commuters who hot foot it down Federal. Buses line the street like a train at any given time and a taxi rank stretches for at least half of it. But when they “move that bus” (Auckland Council please make it permanently so!) the big reveal is quite simply fabulous.
Today I lunched at Al Brown’s Depot. He opened his doors at the same time Luke Dallow opened Hummingbird (read our opening night review here) next door and Sean Connolly opened The Grill just on the other side of the Sky Grand’s new entrance. Like Hummingbird there is outdoor seating for those brave enough to sit amongst the bus fumes, but we decided on a table next to a new window that has been blasted through the Sky Grand wall to reveal their swanky lobby.
Nick (from somewhere in the north of England by the sounds) was our waiter and after hearing about the Depot’s most popular dishes until a little pool of drool collected on the table in front of me, we let him come up with a selection of small plates and one main for us to share. I was also keen to try the wine on tap. Yes, pinot noir out of keg from Mt Edward in Central Otago’s Gibbston Valley. It was 17.5˚ (which I find quite suitable for a red) and is done especially because Al is a mate. It pays to be mates with Al, who was sitting behind me, because he’s been selling barrels of it. That and Spy Valley sauvignon blanc and Mt Edward rose, also on tap but chilled like beer.
While poring over the menu a little plate of complimentary and deliciously smooth babaganoush arrived with flat bread. But it was the raw seafood bar that grabbed my attention.
I’ve never seen tuatua just sitting on ice like oysters before. Let alone tasted them. The only way I’ve eaten tuatua (after doing the hip swivel in the sand at low tide) is to throw them on the barbie in their shells with a little white wine when they pop open. But no. Here they come raw and shucked with a little vinagarette to drip on and “schloopp”. That’s the sound you make when you suck them off the shell. (NB: Not first date fodder). The texture is tougher than an oyster, but the flavour mild, like a scallop maybe? You’ll have to try them and decide for yourself. $2.50 each.
A plate of raw salmon sliced thinly was our next dish with wasabi mayo, $15. Nice but not as wow as the rest of what was about to come.
The plate of the day for me was the white peach and proscuitto salad. It was a surprise and I have already tried to emulate it at home putting peach slices on the bbq. This was sublime: warm charred peach slices, salty proscuitto, rocket, toasted macadamia nuts and tart blue cheese with a cab sav dressing. I think it’s only a special so you’d better get there quick.
Next was also fab and I’d already read Tweets about it: Turbot Sliders, 4 for $15. This light fish is similar to flounder, lightly egged and pan fried, served with aoli in tiny burger buns that are a little sweet. But we still weren’t done.
A swig of my tumbler of pinot and the 6-hour cooked pork hock which fell off the bone served with crispy skin, grated apple and a parsnip puree arrived. This is a main dish ($29) and would be great to share with a wine for two.
I’d almost forgotten that we also ordered the potato skins – most likely deep fried, they were that delicious, with shaved chevrago cheese and dusted with porcini powder giving it a truffle taste, $10.
Done and dusted and heading home for a lie down! I’m going back with my Bloke as soon we can 🙂
Depot Eatery and Oyster Bar, 86 Federal Street. Ph 09 363 7048. But you can’t make a booking, so just call if you’ve left your wallet!