It all started with a bunch of abandoned vinyl records found on the side of the highway - including the French opera Carmen by George Bizet and Carmen Jones, the African American opera adaptation of said opera. A few years later, at the end of 2015, a restaurant aiming to fuse cultures with the same panache as the opera adaptation opened on Karangahape Road.
The place took its inspiration from Carmen Jones's ability to reinterpret Western classics through the lens of another culture, co-owner Clare Hindmarsh tells me. In this case, contemporary New Zealand fare is given a heavy Mediterranean - and especially Turkish (including family recipes from Clare's Turkish husband and recipes off the streets) - slant.
The food and atmosphere on offer at Carmen Jones is "just something comforting", Clare calls it. "Comforting" is an underestimate. The cauli fritters ($13), which are cauliflower dipped in egg and fried and served with yoghurt aioli, chilli and toasted almond salsa is everything a late night fermented stomach could ever crave as well as a staple order piece for the colder months. The perfectly spiced lahmajun, a Turkish-style street pizza which is designed to have you fold and cup your toppings with the pizza base is enough to make you want to forego any dishes involving cutlery, at least momentarily. A final mention should go to the grilled lamb cutlets ($29) served with pomegranate seeds, pistachios and apricots, aubergine puree, bulghur wheat and a side of greens. The little bit of sweetness of the apricots and the smokiness of the aubergine perfectly frames and highlights the beautifully cooked lamb.
To finish things off you'll want to order a Carmen Espresso Martini ($17). It's got just the right pep to carry you into the next stage of your night out on K' Road.