Hidden away up a dark staircase, with discreet signage projected onto its exterior brick wall, lies Culprit. — the first joint project of Depot's ex-head chef Kyle Street and fellow chef Jordan Macdonald.
Culprit. offers small bites that Street has termed "European-style yum cha". The small plates are wheeled out on a custom-made, matte black trolley with individually priced items that get marked up on your card as you choose, just like at a traditional yum cha restaurant. There are two sittings each night at 6pm and 8pm, and although walk-ins are welcome, you could miss out on the first few rounds of dishes that are brought out at the beginning of service.
Almost as soon as we sat down we were presented with 'Courgette & Courgette' — two fried courgette flowers with pine nuts, mint puree, basil and goat's cheese. A tasty little way to set up our meal, although the dish might have been nicer if it was slightly warmer (a drawback of the trolley-based service) and the batter crispier. Following that were four clams with crispy chorizo which were tasty, although a teeny bit gritty. The final dish on wheels we tried was the current Culprit. favourite - a small buttermilk pancake with moist smoked mackerel, crispy fried capers and Sriracha mayo with a good kick.
The intrigue of European-style yum cha is reason enough to want to visit Culprit., but what really sparked my interest was the sustainability story behind the new restaurant. Street and Macdonald work directly with local New Zealand farmers and producers, making sure nothing goes to waste, which generally means working with under-utilised and seemingly unwanted products. The dishes we had were proof of this — the cost-conscious aged bavette steak is wood-fired and served rare and beautifully tender with the best (and biggest) Yorkshire pudding I've ever had, broccolini and what I can only describe as whipped hollandaise sauce. We paired the roast beef with the Secret Garden Leaves. There were no edible flowers in sight; the menu proudly states that the leaves used are mature (i.e. unwanted by most) but even so, they are constructed into a tasty little side salad.
Drinks-wise, there's a large range of Brothers beer on offer, an extensive wine list and a cocktail list with all the classics. We were too full to try the desserts, but that gives me an excuse to go back; the Whittaker's milk chocolate mousse sounds like a good time.