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Original and exciting. Boutique Hotel DeBrett in the central city is one of a kind and its in-house restaurant, DeBretts Kitchen, doesn't disappoint.
While so many hotel restaurants huddle around mediocrity, relying on the house guests to use their service out of sheer convenience, DeBretts Kitchen breaks all the rules in being an attractive and credible option for dinner, even if you're not staying in the hotel.
The design and ambience alone are worth a look but the restaurant has always held its own in delivering great food to the table, too, despite a changing guard of chefs over the years.
As I waited for my dinner companion in the house bar, I took in the softly lit space with its cushioned seating, backlit bar and retro fittings and I couldn't have felt more comfortable or happier to be there.
My friend duly arrived and a glass of bubbles later, we drifted into the main dining room.
And what a dining room it is. Astoundingly quirky and more charming than almost any hotel restaurant I've dined in, the glass-roofed atrium allows for the light to flood in during the day and once night has fallen, you can gaze at the stars.
The artwork is dramatic, the colourful furniture delightful, the off-beat lampshade hangs precariously into the space, and a water feature is a playful surprise. It's marvellous.
And so to the menu which, when we visited, is in the process of evolving, as talented chef Mark Harman has recently taken up the reins in the kitchen.
To start, we ordered from the selection of sharing plates; mussel fritters and chicken skewers. The mussel fritters played tricks on my taste buds in that they tasted more like tuatua fritters to me. Regardless, they were pasty and served on a corn salsa that overpowered them. Boned chicken wings made up the chicken skewers and these were served with the unlikely accompaniment of ketchup.
Now, I've eaten and cooked my fair share of chicken, but to pair this poultry meat with a tomato sauce, albeit "house-made", is an ill-fated choice when you consider all the flavour profiles that could have been chosen. It made me wince and I wondered if we were on a collision course with disaster. But when our remaining dishes came out from the kitchen, they dazzled us with their brilliance, obliterating the memory of our faltering start.
Stuffed zucchini flowers oozed goat's cheese and were encased in a crisp, lace-like tempura and paired with smooth, sweet pumpkin puree, toasted pecan and sweet mustard fruits to counter the tanginess of the cheese.
A piece of eye fillet was beautifully cooked and sat plump and juicily alongside a hunk of braised skirt steak that fell apart, yet miraculously escaped being dry and stringy. A hit of fresh horseradish and pickled shitake provided a decent punch and kick.
We were all about the meat on this occasion, and a main dish of venison and beets was just as impressive as the beef. The venison fillet was cooked to perfect pink, and a house-made spiced venison sausage was sticky, tasty and divine dredged through the other flavours on the plate - beetroot, pineapple and pistachio.
How could these outstanding creations come from the same kitchen as fried chicken and ketchup? I have no idea, but I'm pleased they did to restore my faith.
With our confidence in the kitchen reinstated, we ordered a lemon tart and strawberry zabaglione to sweeten the deal. The tart lacked silkiness and featured an undercooked crust and roasted white chocolate which, though in vogue, added little in terms of flavour or texture.
But the strawberry invention was sensational. Stunningly pretty, a ring of chopped strawberries and delicate fresh raspberries circled a mound of cool and smooth Italian-style custard. A decent dusting of hazelnut praline topped it off. Gorgeous.
So it was an evening of slightly inconsistent dining, but the dishes that worked well were deliciously memorable, the multi-dimensional space is inspired in its design and the staff are friendly, professional and informative.
All of this was enough to convince me that DeBretts Kitchen remains a dining option worthy of consideration for a night out. In fact, I'd go further and say treat yourself and book in for the night because I'd be well happy to have such a delightful in-house dining option just downstairs from where I get to lay my head.
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