Already seduced during a few visits to the bar at 5th Street for drinks before dinner elsewhere, I was greatly anticipating the full food experience at the recently opened restaurant, an offshoot of Hello Sunday cafe across the road. Add in the backstory of a hands-on build that included the participation of key staff, and their obvious enthusiasm and passion for sharing their general dining ethos of local and seasonal, and my expectations were heightened commensurately.
The decor at 5th Street hangs together despite a number of contrasts and contradictions. An inky-dark interior is dominated by a brass-topped bar and green-tiled kitchen, while the black-painted industrial-looking open beams of the ceiling have their counterpoint in luxe lampshades and brilliant chandeliers. Edgy polished concrete underfoot is warmed and softened by fanciful wallpaper, comfortable upholstered chairs, buttoned-down deep-blue banquettes and planters full of greenery, all slightly suggestive of a Victorian parlour.
Arriving well before our reservation time and intending to sample one of the house cocktails in the comfortable corner adjacent to the bar, we were happy to be seated almost immediately by the maitre d’. The menu is divided into three sections of shared plates, small, medium and large, and as we scanned and began to wonder how much and in what order, we were given the ‘shared plates advice’. About right for two apparently, are two small, two medium and one large, with the medium and large plates to be served at the same time.
Accordingly, we followed orders and our thoughts turned to selecting wines that would complement the disparate dishes, always a challenge with this style of menu. Support for local brewers – Three Boys have a permanent two taps – and winemakers is evident throughout the moderately priced drinks list, with an added smattering of international and natural wines.
Our first small plate, the Himalayan salt-block cured fish impressed. It had ‘wow’ factor in spades. A generous serving of fresh-sliced grouper was perched on a tile-sized one-inch thick slab of pink rock salt, with its pocked and runnelled surface holding on to the accompanying basil vinaigrette. A scattering of microgreens and slices of chilli provided texture and contrast. Even better was the effect on my glass of Greystone Barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc, as the salty cured fish further mellowed the acidity and allowed its guava fruit notes to really sing. The second small plate, broccoli doughnuts, cheddar custard & truffle pecorino, sounded unctuous but despite their excellent texture they were a little spartan, with only a dollop each of the custard. I really wanted more fat!
Simultaneously, our remaining dishes arrived at the table. A flurry of activity ensued; another glass of wine, white or red? I went for chardonnay, across the table pinot noir, hedging our bets. Then, which dish to start with? My instinct was to go with the large plate – perfectly cooked flaky hapuka which sat proud of earthy beans and a substantial swirl of finely pureed cauliflower, delicious with the toasted hazelnut character of my chardonnay. An elusive lemon emulsion was a tart and spiky contrast. The race began to eat enough before the already cooling plates were cold, maybe only an issue for couples but worth staggering the dishes slightly to avoid. Next, the mushroom medley (one variety only, no medley detected) a double-down on umami with its buttery seaweed sauce. Then, a sliced strip of well-charred mediumrare flank steak, full of flavour, matched by a punchy, lemony chermoula and scattered pieces of nutty, dried garlic.
The five-plate advice was about right as we still managed to share a buttery rhubarb cake almost submerged in a frothy rich sabayon (described as crème catalana) flavoured with orange blossom and studded with pistachios.
Service was personable and appropriate throughout and with skin in the game, the eager endorsement by staff of wine, food and cocktails was refreshing. Minor details aside, 5th Street met my expectations and will no doubt seduce many more in the future.