A Bad Idea Poorly Executed
196 Parnell Road
Mon – Sun 12pm until late
64 -9 – 309 5055
Right at the start of this I want to make something really clear. I quite like reviewing restaurants.
This could be because I am a narcissist who never tires of the sound of their own voice – or it could be because I quite like sitting down at a place and thinking about how they have designed it, what they are trying to achieve with the food and if they have mastered it or not.
But there is a flaw in this. I don’t like giving out bad reviews, my sympathies are always with someone who is trying to make something, to do something, but in the case of Woodpecker Hill, I’m going to make an exception.
Be warned – this is a bad review.
Woodpecker Hill is listed in the top 20 as one of Auckland’s Best Restaurants, coming second in the “Best City Fringe Bistro” category – which is something to boast about, because the Kiwi’s tend to be excellent at food.
For a start the location is right. It’s in Ponsonby, which is to Auckland what Paddington is to Sydney, South Yarra is to Melbourne and Marylebone is to London; you know the drill – if you go looking for a pharmacy in Parnell Road because you have hay fever you won’t find one – but if its art galleries or coffee you are looking for – then you are in luck.
But back to Woodpecker Hill. We went there for a long lunch – because it had been a long week. We had all shuffled backward and forward to Auckland General Hospital to see a sick family member (much better now and much recovered thanks to what can only be described as a truly excellent public health system) and we wanted time to talk, break bread and get lightly drunk in the afternoon.
To be fair the clues that this wasn’t going to be great were there from the start.
They were playing “Yacht Rock” slightly too loudly over the stereo system. You might have forgotten or never heard of yacht rock – but yacht rock is to music what the fluffy duck is to alcoholic drinks. One is great – but after that you are filled with the urge to stuff your ears with napkins. A man can only take so much Dr Hook.
The waiters – and I hasten to say they were all men – all wore company provided denim waist coats. Over white shirts and black trousers.
Waist coats are kind of tricky to pull off. If you have the body of a Greek god – then they are great. Frankly if you have the body of a Greek god, then everything is great, but they make everyone else look slightly ridiculous. Especially the portly. They look like they are a tube of denim toothpaste.
But let’s not get distracted, by this or the décor – heavy wood tables, lots of sheepskins, clamshell lights- this review is about the food and the service.
Let’s start with the food, I mean that’s why we are here.
To be honest if I had read the description of what the restaurant was trying to do before I went, I probably wouldn’t have gone – because here’s the drill: Woodpecker Hill is trying to be a Whisky Bar/Texan Smokehouse/Asian Fusion restaurant.
Now I like whisky bars, I like smoke house food and I like Asian fusion – but all together – frankly that’s a stretch.
The restaurant has a big plates and sharing policy, so we ordered wide and randomly – first the highlights: The Salt and Pepper School Prawns and the Bok Choy.
They look simple but Salt and Pepper School Prawns are hard to do well. Done badly it’s like eating grasshoppers, but these weren’t,they were crunchy and sweet and with the right amount of chili. The Bok Choy was fresh and bathed in a light oyster sauce.
But the rest of it, the beef, the crispy skinned chicken, the lamb curry all tasted the same – the overwhelming flavours of lemongrass and coriander. That was it, no nuance, no flavour, no sweetness – just everything bathed in lemongrass and coriander.
The service was good – although, we were greeted with a largely empty restaurant at 12:30 on a wednesday being told that we would normally have to make a booking (there were only four tables occupied the entire time we were there), the waiters we had were quick and efficient.
In the end it’s the food that lets Woodpecker Hill down. I can only image an episode of Kitchen Nightmares in which Gordon Ramsay comes in and says “Texan smokehouse meets Asian fusion and whisky bar? Are you insane?… and starts stripping it back to simple lovely local produce.
So in short; go to sit outside on Parnell Road, or go to drink in the bar, have a plate of school prawns and a couple of scotches – but don’t go expecting great food.