Nestled in a tall, narrow Victorian villa on a busy strip of Ponsonby Road in central Auckland is a relaxed little sanctuary of conviviality.

Orphans Kitchen was opened four and a half years ago by friends Tom Hishon (Executive Chef ) and Josh Helm (Manager), who hoped to bring to the table their unique expression of New Zealand food culture. It’s also a place of focus, experimentation and dedication. Purity, simplicity and sustainability guide their restaurant’s daily workings, and this shows in every beautiful dish they serve.

When you eat at Orphans Kitchen, there is a feeling that you are eating at a special friend’s place. There’s an informality and an intimacy, both with fellow diners and with staff. The food is unfussy, made simply, with seasonal local ingredients prepared and cooked with respect and modern flair. “Food tastes better when it’s made with love and hasn’t travelled far”, says Tom.

Abundant salad leaves are draped across platters in varying shades of green and purple. Slivers of raw fresh fish overlap one another in gleaming fold. Giant cauliflower are served whole, allowing all of the goodness that comes with simply roasting the vegetable and letting its flavours reign supreme. All the while, there are beguiling touches of artistry, the product of knowledge combined with experimentation. This is a kitchen with one or two secrets — how did they get so much flavour into whipped, burnt butter? I swear it has been laced with butterscotch.

Orphans are committed to working with regional produce cultivated with care, and to promoting the protection of native fish species, while championing more sustainable approaches to harvesting food from New Zealand’s forests, farmlands and rivers. “Yes, we forage for ingredients, but we feel that there is a sensibility restaurants have when they are connected to local produce and the land around them,” Tom says. “We tend a plot at Kelmarna Gardens, which is just down the road from our restaurant. Here, we grow herbs, edible flowers, citrus, seasonal fruit and salad greens. We try to grow things that taste infinitely better when they’re freshly picked and haven’t travelled far.” Bread is made daily, honey is collected from rooftop hives and, where possible, Orphans Kitchen likes to make things from scratch, such as ginger beer, fish sauce, ice cream and fermented vegetables. They even have their own take on marmite!

The space embraces its history with whitewashed walls, long macrocarpa dining tables and a winding staircase leading to an upstairs dining room. Modern additions like handblown glass pendant lights and natural stone and brass details complete the look and feel. Licensed until 3am, the restaurant is perfect for anyone seeking an intimate city wedding, whether it’s a formal dinner in the upstairs or main dining room, or a relaxed reception in the sheltered courtyard, and would make a wonderful food-oriented hens or bachelors evening. Regardless of size or scale, Orphans Kitchen and its dynamic and caring team will provide a memorable, delicious experience for any guest who walks through their doors.

 

Plated food photography—Josh Griggs | All other photography—Greta Kenyon & Thomas Hishon | Location—Orphans Kitchen  | Words—Caroline Waldegrave | Florals—Sue Cameron at Floral Stylist Co. |  Tableware, crockery & glassware— Orphans Kitchen