Monday, February 6, 2012

Review: Depot Eatery and Oyster Bar

I'm not the first blogger to write about Depot, and I am sure I will not be the last.  This newish eatery by NZ celebrity chef Al Brown (of Logan Brown fame) is one of our favourite spots to eat in Auckland, though we don't go as often as we would like, because the place is understandably almost always full, as it has been from day one (August last year), even now that the Rugby World Cup is over.

The quality of the food is way up there, but we also love the deliberate casualness of the place.  From the paper menus (which apparently you are allowed to keep) to the knick-knacks around the room to the cutlery left in tins, you just feel invited to drop in.  There are little hints of a nostalgia for a bygone era, with the signage above the front door lettered in gold leaf, the waiters wearing aprons which look like suspenders from the back, old pictures of New Zealand boys on the backs of the menus (eating fish and chips, gathering shellfish, or saying their prayers), and pseudo-historic labels on the sugar tins and cutlery holders.  But it is also modern, and if you are lucky, you can sit on bar stools overlooking one of the food prep areas.

Antique looking front doors, opening to a full restaurant.
Diners overlooking the main kitchen.
Sugar tin, as if from a bygone era.
Bar area next to where the oysters are prepared, unusually empty as we were there in the morning for a change.
While you are waiting for your meal, they bring out a complimentary plate of warmed pita bread for you to nibble on, most recently served with baba ghanoush, though I think I preferred the hummus with paprika oil they used to have.  You can also purchase Tuatara beer and a couple of wines on tap, from a small glass for the more restrained, to a jug to share.

Pita bread and baba ghanoush.  Jug of Tuatara beer.
One of the major selling points of Depot is its raw bar, where you can choose from a selection of oysters and clams, freshly shucked to order.  Where else have you seen such a thing in Auckland, I ask?

Orongo Bay oysters and Tio Point oysters, optionally with chardonnay vinegar & shallots, or bloody Mary ice.
Little neck clams, optionally with rock sugar ginger syrup.
Their cooked dishes are fantastic too.  We were sad to see that some items we really enjoyed were no longer on the menu:

Battered snapper tortillas with slaw, coriander and green tomato salsa (from old menu).
Skirt steak with tobacco onions and habenera mustard, which we scooped from a little glass jar (from old menu).
But their current menu offers much to drool over also!  The clam broth was full of buttery goodness, the turbot sliders were light and refreshing, the pork hock very skilfully cooked (though not something you can eat much of), and the potato skins were delicious with chevrego cheese and porcini salt (the flavour of which we mistook for truffle oil).  We haven't tried everything on the menu yet, but we are confident that they are all good.

Steamed Cloudy Bay tuatua clams with garlic herb broth and ciabatta.

Turbot sliders with preserved lemon and watercress.
Crisp pork hock with apple & horseradish salsa verde and parsnip puree.
Potato skins with chevrego and porcini salt.
To balance out your meal though, you really need to order some vegetables as well.  The courgette flowers dish was particularly superb, especially the juicy courgette strips, as parts of the flower with more tempura batter can be quite oily.  The chargrilled corn was also very tasty, with a delightful lime flavour in the dipping sauce.  The beets were interesting in that they tasted like your usual purple beetroot, but were yellow and orange.

Epicurean courgette flowers with Persian feta and Pinoli pinenuts.

Chargrilled corn with chilli and lime creme fraiche.
Clydes beets with kohlrabi sticks, Castlepoint feta and purple walnuts, garnished with baby watercress.
I would also highly recommend their desserts.  The sugar pie was not nearly as sweet as it sounds (especially as it is served with unsweetened whipped cream), and was soft and caramelly, and reminded me of American pumpkin pie.  The cherry tumbler was beautiful with sherry zabaglione and espresso crunch.  The other dessert special was nearly as good, hot honey glazed apricots with homemade vanilla icecream and amaretti.

Sugar pie with whipped cream.
Cherry tumbler with sabaglione and espresso crunch.
Grilled apricots with vanilla icecream and amaretti.
Most times we've visited, Al Brown has been there as well, sometimes helping take a dish out, sometimes chatting to customers.  The one time we had breakfast at Depot (you can have bacon butties or beignets dusted with icing sugar for a decadent start to the day), he sat at the next table, working on his laptop. It's great to see so much involvement from the owner, and the positive influence of this really shows.

Al hard at work in his own eatery.
Depot's unique offerings, high quality of food focussed on local seasonal ingredients, and its central location make it one of the top places to eat in Auckland.  Sometimes it can be slow, and one time our potato skins came out nearly burnt and rather soggy, but overall the standards here are excellent.  And it's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, great for those random times when you need a bite.  At conventional meal times, be prepared to have to wait, but hey, it's worth it.

Panda Recommends

Depot's menu is seasonal and regularly changing.  At the moment, though...

Raw Bar:  Tio Point oysters ($6.00 each)
Share Plates: Steamed Cloudy Bay Tuatua Clams with garlic herb broth and ciabatta ($22.00), Grilled Green Lipped Mussels with Akaroa chorizo, garlic and tarragon ($12.00), Epicurean Courgette Flowers with Persian feta and Pinoli pinenuts ($15.50)
Sides: Chargrilled Corn with chilli and lime creme fraiche ($6.00), Potato Skins with Ellersmere chevrego and porcini salt ($10.00) [Added 14 May 2012: corn is now off the menu, but the Brussels Sprouts with Salash Pancetta and Walnut Crumbs ($8.00) is well worth trying.]
Dessert: Sugar Pie with whipped cream ($9.00), Cherry Tumbler with sherry sabaglione and espresso crunch ($8.00) [Added 14 May 2012: the Tamarillo Bomb ($8) is like the Cherry Tumbler but nowhere near as good, as it doesn't really go with the coffee chunks; the Quince Tart ($22.00) is an unusual old-fashioned dessert, fantastic with the vanilla ice cream of which there is not quite enough, though they give you a large ball]

Vegie Pandas
There is generally only one of the smaller sharing plates which you can eat.  This used to be Falafel with Goat's Curd and Harissa ($14.00), which was fresh and not too salty, unlike the kebab shop variety.  In the latest menu, it is Epicurean Courgette Flowers with Persian feta and Pinoli pinenuts ($15.50), which were amazing.  You can also partake of practically all the side dishes.


Dessert menu

Depot does not take bookings.  Turn up before the crowd hits, or leave your name and wait for a table.

Restaurant Details

Depot Eatery and Oyster Bar
86 Federal Street, Auckland Central
(09) 363 7048

Opening Hours:
Mondays to Sundays 7am - late

Depot is a casual eatery directly opposite the Auckland Sky Tower.

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  1. I love this place too. Must go back there one day soon.

  2. Hello, thanks for commenting on my blog.
    One of my friends from NYC went to Depot Eatery and boy I got tell you I was drooling the whole time looking at those pictures. I'd love to visit this restaurant when I make my way down there one day:)

  3. Did you feel like visiting Depot recently? Good round-up of the dishes here - I hadn't tried some of the snacks you mentioned but their Bone marrow, especially on my first visit here, made quite an impression on me with its fatty blast! Overall, not an exceptional joint but worth a occasional pop-in.

    1. We did come back the other night, and enjoyed their beef cheek and gnocchi (separate dishes). Their potato skins were not as good as they were in the past though - they didn't cut them thinly enough, so there was too much potato flesh. Hopefully just a one-off thing though.


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