As a born-and-bred Londoner, it’s very rare for me to walk into a restaurant, especially in Christchurch, and wonder exactly where I’ve been transported to. Yet Earl exudes a unique urban hum and reminds me of my old stomping grounds; the East London backstreet eating houses of Shoreditch and Bermondsey.
Outside is a simple navy canopy, but don’t let this lull you; once through the door the uber-chic interior snaps you right back to attention with a bright, light, canteen-like space, exposed kitchen, closely set tables and dining-room-facing booths.
The unpretentious menu offers sharing, bistro and pasta options; you can also ‘Eat like an Earl’, with the chef’s choice at $60 per person, a fantastic way to grab the entire vibe on a series of plates.
We got straight down to business and chose fritto misto (deep-fried calamari with ink mayo) from the quaintly entitled ‘Hors d’oeuvres’. Bite through crispy-as-a-wafer batter to reveal a generous ring of tender squid, with just enough mayo on the plate to bring all the flavours together with a squeeze of lemon. The taleggio croquette arrived golden, still glistening, and once cut the molten cheese and fluffy potato centre oozed gloriously, like lava, onto the plate. These paired with a beautiful glass of dry, savoury Castellani Chianti and chilled bottle of East Block IPA for the geeza.
As drinks go, Earl provides a concise and well-rounded list, showcasing new wines each week, as well as a large list of beers, wines and alcohol-free drinks to choose from. With an in-house mixologist you can always grab your tribe and drop in for a casual afternoon session of cocktails and bar snacks, when aperitivo hour (3pm-5pm) comes around.
While waiting for our mains, it was a joy to take in the theatre of Earl: the open kitchen with four chefs and one mixologist, and tucked in the back, the dish washer – seemingly unobserved – dancing to his own tune.
We chose a medium-rare Café de Paris butcher’s steak with hasselback potatoes and prosciutto crumbs. Just off the grill, this dish was simple and exceptional. Plenty of flavour, well- seasoned, with just enough on the plate not to overshadow the star. The market fish (tarakihi) with tri-colour peppers, puttanesca, capers and lardo came with a side of crispy eggplant, tomato sugo, parmesan and soft herbs. Although a beautiful plate, the crispy-skin fish was very dry, so I had to deal with a fair amount of food envy, and a fork duel for the last morsel of succulent steak.
Don’t worry, Earl, your desserts saved the day – oh yes, they did! We capped off our evening with an elegant cocoa-dusted mille feuille with chocolate cremeux, coffee, mascarpone and hazelnut. It was a curiously deceitful almost savoury dish with lots of texture and just enough sticky mousse to entice the crumbs onto your spoon. Divine. Even better, the semifreddo of macerated strawberries, basil oil, pinenuts and amaretto was gloriously naughty. The smooth cream, earthy green oil with sweet strawberries was food alchemy at its best. JAX HAMILTON