The hospitality industry is a fickle thing, and it is always a wonder why one restaurant may stay open for 20 years and another lasts barely a year. The Auckland dining scene has been gathering steam for the last few years with an ever-revolving door of new restaurants opening weekly, and last week Auckland welcomed not one but 11 new eateries under the roof of 125 Queen Street at the new Queen’s Rise development.
There is something here to suit everybody. Something to the feed the fitness conscious, something to suit a date between old or new lovers, and something to feed the fat kid in you. I visited the latter, the newest venture from the team behind Culprit. I eagerly followed Kyle Street’s adventures in the deep southern states of America on Instagram a few years ago where he queued for hours to eat slow cooked brisket and hot fried chicken, and I suspect Lowbrowis Street’s fat kid dream finally realised.
Lowbrow is a well-conceptualised eatery with design nods towards its sister restaurant Culprit. Geometric pink neon lights adorn one wall and the beer taps are colourful characters custom made by artist Gary Baseman. The menu has a focus on short order, American dishes interspersed with some more refined and hearty small and larger dishes.
They had me at dessert. Milk battered fried vanilla birthday cake served with toasted waffle cone soft serve and sprinkles? Who thinks of this stuff? But let’s start at the beginning. My boyfriend Elliott and I visited Lowbrow on its second day of opening, upon which I later pondered why I find it so difficult to balance my desire to try the latest and greatest with waiting just long enough for these new restaurants to find their feet. Because the service on this night was patchy and awkward at best. And the hype during the day had cleaned the kitchen out of all the sandwich items and smoked pickled brisket. Enticed however by our neighbouring table’s bucket (yes, it was a white, KFC style bucket) of Lowbrow fried chicken wings (10 for $30), we opted for a more modest portion of four ($15). The organic Bostock chicken wings were generously dusted in a spicy dry rub and were steaming hot and juicy inside. But the dry rub was just so sour. I like sour, sour is my thing, but this was a little too much. It detracted from what would otherwise have been a great set of wings. We added a handful of shoestring fries dusted with chicken salt and served with a malt vinegar mayo for good measure, but the chicken salt was a little too subtle, and the malt vinegar it would seem was all used up in the preparation of the dry rub so that the mayo didn’t taste much like malt vinegar.
Never have I eaten so much white bread in recent memory as I did on this one night. But it is a good thing. The aforementioned hot wings were served on top of a slice of white bread, just like they do in Nashville, and taking a bite of wing here and tearing a bit of bread of there helps one’s mouth to cool off. They also do white bread in the form of Parkerhouse rolls filled with garlic butter ($8). Beautifully glazed with butter, these rolls were so white and fluffy and devoid of any nutritional value whatsoever, but they could dial up the garlic factor a bit more. And because we couldn’t get enough of this supermarket splendour, we ordered the white bread tacos with fried breaded Cloudy Bay clams, iceberg lettuce and Lowbrow thousand island dressing ($10 for three). A more sophisticated version of a mussel-fritter butty bedecked with finely chopped chives, this wee dish was a delicious concept, but the small serving of clams for each taco left me wanting
We finally arrived at dessert, but after eating several deep-fried items I couldn’t face the idea of consuming fried birthday cake in the same meal so plumped for the salted caramel and pretzel sundae, which consisted of salted caramel soft-serve over a spiced pretzel cake, drizzled with spiced syrup and toasted crushed pretzels. The spices were a nice, warming contrast to the cool soft-serve, and the saltiness of the pretzel crumb brought out the flavours of the sundae beautifully.
Despite my quibbles, I would like to visit Lowbrow again when the ship has tightened up. There is some pickled brisket with my name on it. The concept is fantastic and I’m sure with some tweaking Lowbrow will solidify itself as an Auckland stalwart.
Queen's Rise 125 Queen St
This review was originally written for Cheap Eats.