March 21, 2016 / 1 Comment
The newest addition to restaurant maven Mark Wallbank and Chef Che Barrington’s portfolio of incredibly successful partnerships, Woodpecker Hill more than holds it’s own alongside it’s stablemates, the Ponsonby institutions that are Moo Chow Chow and Blue Breeze Inn.
Any of the three makes for a fantastic choice of dining venue – just to prove it, today Woodpecker Hill made it a trifecta of admissions to the 2016 Metro top 50 list for the group. What I love about these restaurants is while all serve Asian cuisine, each has it’s own clear voice and is not simply another branch rolled out of a successful formula. Moo Chow Chow is elegant, modern and vibrant Thai, Blue Breeze dishes up contemporary Chinese with Pacific Rim influences in a Hawaiian hula hut setting. (Oh, and there is also a small outlet adjacent to Blue Breeze, Chop Chop.) So what’s the Woodpecker signature? Like Moo Chow Chow, the vibe is Thai chic – but here the secret ingredient is the BBQ Smokehouse twist.
Before the juicy and flavourful meat arrives on your plate or in your curry, it’s been on quite the journey. Slow cooked (often overnight) in the onsite smokehouse, meat takes centre stage here, and it’s served up in sizeable portions. If ever you’ve lamented the amount of meat in your curry, this will not be a concern at Woodpecker. On each of my five visits I’ve focussed on the curries – these are the backbone of the large plates. The menu is for sharing, so grab a group and go nuts tasting! You won’t need more than around one large plate per person, we usually walk out stuffed!
What we ordered:
RED CURRY OF SMOKEY PORK, GREEN PEPPERCORNS, STRAW MUSHROOMS, WILD GINGER, LIME LEAF – $34 NZD
SPICED BURNT ENDS, LEMONGRASS, FRIED SHALLOTS, VIETNAMESE MINT & LIME – $34 NZD
AROMATIC BBQ LAMB CURY, SMOKED POTATOES, PICKLED GARLIC, CHARRED SHALLOTS -$34 NZD
GREEN PAPAYA, SNAKE BEANS, PEANUTS, CHERRY TOMATO – $15 NZD
RICE – $3
Woodpecker makes the best curries in town, and then some. Truly these should be known on the international scene. I dare say if this restaurant was situated in Thailand it would be famous.
As the dishes start to arrive, it may at first perplex you that all of the above dishes (save the green papaya salad of course) look like fairly similar red curries. Don’t let appearances fool you – both differences in the herbs, flavours and the barbecuing of the meat leads to each dish singing it’s own tasty tune.
My favourite of this spread was the lamb – so tender and spicy with a touch of caramelised sweetness contributed by the charred shallots. Don’t be too scared to eat the garlic, it’s delish and as a bonus should keep the vampires at bay for the night at least.
The smokey pork doesn’t disappoint – a different taste this time with a hint of lemon balm flavour – there are kaffir lime leaves a plenty, but in this dish I really feel more of a lemon note coming through and it’s delicious. The straw mushrooms have a great smooth and slippery texture also and work well with the pork.
The ‘Burnt ends’ are also a crowd pleaser – big chunks of charred brisket ends packed full of flavour. Piles of Vietnamese mint atop the dish liven proceedings up nicely. Just a heads up – none of the curries at Woodpecker contain a lot of veges, maybe some mushrooms here, shallots there, but not like your usual Thai fare. These are for the protein fans – so it’s nice to compliment the meat focus of the curries with some freshness in the form of the green papaya salad. Does a great job to break up the richness and freshen the palette with it’s clean lemon juice hit.
For drinks you’ll have a wide range of beers to choose from including international and craft offerings – we had Sapporo on tap at $9/glass, and plenty of NZ and American wines. Some great NZ wines here on offer – the Dog Point Chardonnay we had was top notch, creamy, oaky, nutty, stunning. Not a HUGE chardonnay, but big enough – and not bad value either at $72 NZD/bottle. Plenty of options by the glass, and even at the cheaper end these were delicious, such as the Rocky Point Rose ($10.50/glass). The Felton Road Chardonnay is also a recommended drop at $15/glass.
I’ve never made it to dessert at Woodpecker as I’m always too full! If you’ve had a crack at the sweet side of things, please leave a comment and share your experience!
Please just GO to Woodpecker, you’ll love it – just remember to book in advance, this is a hot spot you can’t just stroll on in to – and I’d hate for you to go away disappointed. Enjoy!