Three horn blasts from a cruise ship welcome my arrival to The Culpeper. A suitable accompaniment given the holiday vibes that emanate from the establishment. Being within arms reach to the harbour is only the start of what makes the restaurant feel like an escape from the daily grind. Abundant with plant life and cane furniture, the large verandah is the optimum position to sit back, take in the cool breeze and indulge in as many beverages as your bank account will allow.
The eatery was opened as part of a revamp by Nourish Group, who also introduced celebrity and Executive Chef Gareth Stewart to both the new look Euro and The Culpeper. He's joined here by Head Chef Nigel Reid.
In line with the 'getaway' theme, the menu draws on influences from exotic locations around the globe; traversing Asia with crab and kimchi hushpuppies and madras-spiced crayfish; Southern America with slow-cooked meats and a mac 'n' cheese with smoked ham hock; Jamaica with a jerk chicken recipe courtesy of Stewart’s aunts; and closer to home with whitebait fritter sliders and Clevedon oysters from the raw bar. The idea of ‘home-style fine dining’ is also apparent, and makes you comfortable enough to compare notes with the chef about the house-made barbecue sauce, or question why that jerk spice has more x-factor than the version you make at home.
The Asian style tacos are a fresh start, with varying textures of diced prawns, toasted peanuts and chilli nestled on a bed of crunchy cos lettuce. The Wakanui beef brisket is as comforting as you get, taking little effort to carve and coming with a side of jalapeño mustard and sliced pickles. Further items from the smoker include beef short ribs, 12-hour lamb shoulder, pulled pork, or all of the above on a sampler board for $45 per person.
The side of roasted cauliflower is the one thing you really shouldn't overlook on the menu. After being boiled, the full head is charred in the oven and topped with a good dose of sbrinz cheese and roast pepper puree. The dish is the kind of thing that will keep people coming back to The Culpeper for the ages.
To finish there are things like pumpkin tart with maple ice cream, pineapple up-side down pudding, a roast banana sundae and chocolate chip cookies cooked on-demand. All options that will make you sink further into those cane chairs and forget about what's happening in the real world.