The first time I went to Woodpecker Hill it was warm, we sat out the front beside tropical plants and ate 48hour smoked beef brisket. The second time it was the first day of winter, we were freezing, we sipped red wine beside the open kitchen and ate a beautiful, aromatic duck curry. I am now convinced that Woodpecker Hill is for everyone and everything. It is for the hungry and thirsty, the many and the few, those with eastern flavour cravings and those with a taste for the west. Whatever you’re looking for, you stand a good chance of finding it here.
Woodpecker is the third restaurant from the talented team led by Mark Wallbank and chef Che Barrington. Their first was MooChowChow, a contemporary Thai restaurant that’s still one of my favourite places to eat in town. Second was the bustling, rowdy Blue Breeze Inn, a cheeky place with divine pork buns and Balinese masks all over the walls. Their newest venture is another unexpected hybrid, a Western-style BBQ restaurant serving Asian fusion. The result is what they call an oriental smokehouse – all warm, golden light, bare wood and luxurious fur.
On my first visit I found the interior a little overwhelming, there was just so much to take in. On my return I found it genius – the way the huge space is broken up into distinct and unique sections. Each section has its own perks, whether giant brass bell light fittings, shelves stacked to the celing with wooden logs, or a view of the open kitchen. It’s like an adventure just walking through the door.
If you love the food at MooChowChow, you will love it here, fresh flavours of mint, chilli, coriander and lemongrass feature strongly on this menu too. The dishes are intended for sharing and come piled high with fresh flavours and crunchy textures, but the real delight comes from the added smokiness of the BBQ, whether it’s in your dry duck curry, your smokey pork or your chargrilled salmon. The whole experience is a little on the quirky side, and it works well. The music is just one example, on one visit the music moved casually and unapologetically from Johnny Cash to a 90’s R&B playlist.
It seems the team at Woodpecker Hill don’t intend to take themselves to seriously, the wine list is littered with little punny gems like “she-raz” and “rise-ling”, but equally, they know when to let the quality of what they serve speak for itself. Antipodes water is described as “NZ’s finest” – which really can’t be doubted. There are no jokes to be found on the impressive list of NZ and American whiskeys, it goes for pages and pages. They’re even making their own whiskey over on Waiheke.
I could go on, but all you really need to know is that Woodpecker Hill is a beautiful place, it’s fun and a little silly, but beneath the jokes and design, there is a quality restaurant with wonderful food and slick service.