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23 Jan 2014 • 5 Comments
Oh, hi Wellington. We’re back after a three-month tour of not-very-far, and have had a look around to see what’s been happ'nin’ while we were away. Amongst the comings-and-goings of the hospitality scene, one new arrival stands out: the grand opening of Charley Noble. High profile, large-scale, lavish, and looking like a million dollars, we wouldn’t expect anything less from the culinary capital.
Heading this venture is Paul Hoather, he of the 20-year-old White House on Oriental Parade (soon moving to Chaffers Dock). Opened in October, Hoather hopes Charley Noble will be ‘the sort of smart place where people can afford to dine a few times a week’. Personally, I dine out about once a week and survive the rest of the time on egg and beans, but I take his point: Charley Noble is a lot more accessible than the White House.
For CBD folks it’s certainly in a more convenient location – Post Office Square, in the newly strengthened and refitted 1920’s Huddart Parker building. Charley Noble – named for the galley chimney in wooden sailing ships of old – occupies a cavernous room on the ground floor. With exposed concrete ceilings and lashings of tile, it’s a sharp, modish fit-out, although candles on the table the odd vase of flowers wouldn’t go amiss. If you can, plump for a position near the open kitchen, where the flashing of knives and crackle of the fire-pit give Charley his spark.
It’s the wood-fired grill and rotisserie that lie at the heart of the menu. Enter grilled octopus: tender tentacles reaching into a splendid mélange of smoky aubergine and Jerusalem artichoke with crispy capers and water thin vegetable chips. This dish was a real looker and lovely to eat, something mirrored by our other entree, pig’s tail salad. Bearing no resemblance to a gristly, woolly sheep’s tail nor the gelatinous wodge of an ox, this tail took the form of crackling, chopped into crunchy croutons and mixed up with sharp pomegranate seeds, sweet currants, fresh peas, walnuts and faro. It was a taste and textural sensation, a broadside volley of pops that ricocheted around the palate.
From here it was onward to my death-row meal, crispy chicken skin. Of course, this came attached to a whole, spatchcocked bird, proffering more salty surface area than is probably advised. The bird was moist and full of herby, smoky flavour, and accompanied by a panzanella salad – a Tuscan assemblage of fresh tomatoes, basil and hunks of bread. So simple, so delicious, as was our other main: lamb shoulder, cooked on the rotisserie, roughly hewn and presented in a divine pile of super-rich meat, soft and sweet, fringed with chewy char. It was perfectly foiled by grilled vegetables, couscous, lemon, oregano, and a smear of zingy tzatziki. This is a dish we’re going to attempt on the barbecue, tout suite.
Both main dishes were a keen $28, and neither necessitated a side (although the house-cut chips looked very tempting). And with starters hovering at $16, and desserts around $12, Charley Noble is certainly not over-priced, particularly in light of its quality. Apart from the obvious technical skill of the kitchen crew, what sets this food apart is wood-smoke, and bold flavour combinations that come together in perfect balance.
And so we absolutely ought to have tried ‘Ice-creams inspired by apple pie’ or the chocolate mousse, but instead went straight to cheese. Oh well, we’ll save that for next time.
Check out Charley Noble’s rousing video, starring head chef Darren Shead, the guy who used to cook for rock stars such as Lady Gaga and Duran Duran. Hot stuff!
Georgia meets maker and baker Brigid of Milk Crate cafe.