Occupying a prime slice of the Prince’s Wharf seaside frontage that used to be part of what was once Euro 1.0, The Culpeper is bringing American style BBQ with a side of seafood to the wharf. Nourish Group’s Gareth Stewart brings his wealth of culinary expertise as Executive Chef, and in its first year, the restaurant hit the Metro Top 50 list. Not bad.
American smokehouse BBQ is everywhere in Auckland right now – and I’m not complaining (check out Parnell’s Woodpecker Hill for an awesome fusion take on the trend). How can one say no to ribs? (If you can, please tell me how.) I simply cannot turn them down in any shape or form when I see them on a menu, and I’m well looked after at The Culpeper, with three varieties to choose from. I say choose, but I ordered them all…of course (in the name of research, natch).
Beef Short Rib $28
Lamb Rib Rack $18
Baby Back Pork Ribs – Half $15
Purple Slaw, Apple Dressing $9
I hate to say it, but things didn’t get off to a great start with the Pork belly corn dog ($7). Sounds good, in theory, but in practice…it just doesn’t work. The admittedly appetising looking dog is dipped in bbq sauce and then crackling crumbs…again, sounds great. Biting through thick dough into giant chunks of gelatinous pork fat is, however, quite unappetising. I couldn’t attempt more than a couple of bites of this. I’d give this one a hard pass.
Thankfully, we were right back on track with the next dish – fried chicken. Auckland has more than it’s fair share of fabulous fried chicken – Mexico, Industry Zen, Ebisu, Tatsumi just to name a few – so expectations are high. Pleasingly, it met them – and then some. Absolutely delicious. I was tempted to revisit The Culpeper a second time during my visit just to go back and have some more of this crispy, crunchy, smoky classic. (Update: I’ve since ordered many takeaway portions of said chicken, as I stay at Princes Wharf when I’m in AKL.) A hefty serving for $15, this dish is really great value. It’s a must order. (Another update: it’s now $19…blame inflation.)
Next up we’re heading into smokehouse BBQ territory, with a trio of ribs – lamb ($18), baby back (half, $15) and beef short rib ($28). All of my favourite cuts in one place – I think I’ve died and gone to BBQ heaven. The short rib is succulent and flavourful (though probably a little overpriced at $28) and the pork insanely good, delivering that competition watermelon bite – but I have to say the winner on the day was the Lamb rib rack ($18). I’m becoming a little obsessed with lamb ribs. You might have noticed they are popping up on menus everywhere at the moment – they’re a cheap product for a chef to transform, and when cooked and seasoned well, they are hard to beat (just eat them while they’re hot as the fat layer isn’t too pleasant when cold). I think they leave other lamb cuts for dead…and chops are just soooo 80s, aren’t they?
The meats you choose come served on a board all at once, just FYI – so if you’re a slow eater, like me, you might want to ask for them to come separately so they stay hot. They’re served with mustard, which I’ll admit, I don’t really get – give me a freaking aioli, a chipotle mayo or bbq sauce anyday – and also come with some pickled/cooked veges, which were just ok. The coleslaw was rather uninspired and insipid, though, and I hate to say this, but I even prefer my homemade coleslaw (and it ain’t that great). Much too watery and not creamy enough for my taste.
Would I return? Well, it’s always nice to be seaside, and the decor is cute, but The Culpeper loses some points for too many uncomfortable chair options, mostly those inside the restaurant- the patio is the place to be. All that aside, if we’re talking about the food? Hell yeah, I’d return – but take me straight to the fried chicken and ribs, and let’s forget about all that other stuff. Make a beeline straight for the good stuff – if you do, it will make for a pretty darn good meal at a great price. I think I’m going to have to pop in again on my next visit to the City of Sails…
(Update #3, I have since eaten many many takeaways from The Culpeper…next time I’m in Auckland, you know I’ll be popping in for a fried chicken fix..)