Review: Shepherd, Wellington
Shepherd is named for its co-owner, chef Shepherd Elliot (Ti Kouka café, Leeds St Bakery), but there's a sense too in which diners are herded here, in the sense of steerage into fresh pastures not previously visited. Situated in a now famous courtyard surrounded on all sides by the Hannahs apartment building, Pizza Pomodoro, Golding's Free Dive, Hanging Ditch and the Wellington Chocolate Factory, the restaurant lies at Welly's epicentre of hip. So please do not expect crème brulee, steak bearnaise and frites. Rather, please do be prepared for creamed nettle and kawakawa jelly. Sustainably harvested beech forest wasp pupae may eventually follow.
Actually, the bark tends to be worse than the bite. There's not an overpowering eucalyptus flavour in the kawakawa jelly, and even the pine curing of salmon it accompanies is extremely subtle. Scattered dill fronds are entirely appropriate, you can handle the heavy smoking of small dabs of eggplant puree, and even withstand the provocation of tiny cubes of meringue.
Shepherd Elliot's avowed intention here is to provide something different, and this is done by mixing East and West on a scale not seen since the height of fusion 20 years ago. Added to this is the contemporary taste for raw and healthy plant-based food.
Chunks of pumpkin may not be too exciting to a meatarian, but they're just carriers for a plateful of spiky adornments – salsa verde, confit garlic, smoked yoghurt, finely chopped lime pickle, seeds and chopped almonds. Elliot being a champion of the anti-food-waste movement, his crowning crescent of pumpkin skin is crisp enough to be eaten.
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Beef of the day varies, but is typically a secondary cut, on this evening beef brisket, almost certainly slow-cooked sous-vide: tender, yet still tasty and juicy. A brined yolk sat ready to be spilled over pickled red cabbage, eggplant chutney and roast onion puree.
The service staff seem predominantly charming, sophisticated young men with beards, ever ready to advise on a match from their full international wine list and even bigger beer list.
Even the desserts manage to be different. The tartness of tamarillo seems ready-made to flavour ice cream (yet commercially speaking, it doesn't).
Served unusually as a long thin bar on a beautiful turquoise pottery platter, it's sprinkled with crumbled cocoa nib and drizzled with Island Bay honey, exceptionally strong and sweet. The chocolate ganache for a salted oat crust is rendered bittersweet with dark beer, and accompanied with cubes of coffee jelly and cocoa nib whipped cream.
Almost by design, Shepherd defies easy classification as either a bar or a restaurant.
The well-considered combination of ingredients and refined techniques from the world over speaks of fine dining, and certainly the portions are often as small as the prices are steep.
However, the environment in which you eat is all things to all people. You can sit among the comfortable chairs on the lower dining level, or perch on the high bar stools of the main floor for a snack and a drink. There's no obligation either way, and the napkins – floppy linen tea towels cut in half and re-hemmed – are almost an emblem of the ambiguity.
1/5 Eva St, Wellinton City
04 385 7274, shepherdrestaurant.co.nz