Jesse Mulligan reviewed Alpha for Viva Magazine—you can read the full review here.
Alpha is the third restaurant in a building that also houses Pasture, the original, and Boxer, an almost science fictional bar with food.
Nominally a bakery, it opens at 9.30am, when every door and window is thrown wide and locals begin drifting in, even if they didn’t plan to. Others treat it as a low-commitment luxury: one couple shows up each Wednesday, takes a table outside and orders one potato each (well, it’s more than just a potato — more on that in a moment).
This third restaurant seems to work well for the business, too.
“Suddenly, it’s all just sort of clicked into place,” says owner Ed Verner, of what is doubtless quite a complicated machine. Chefs and servers work across all three venues, sometimes simultaneously. Dishes are delivered by multiple people, including kitchen staff. Though you can’t see the kitchen from Alpha, it never feels very far away.
On the night we visited we were served by Hillary Eaton, an international food writer and culinary whizzkid who visited the restaurant on a job and decided to stay (it’s apparently catching — the kitchen currently features a two-star Michelin chef from Northern California who’s elected to make Pasture his new home). She served us at our last visit to Boxer, too, and is one of the most talented people I have ever seen in this role.
Eaton oversees the drinks list, and though you have access to the entire Pasture cellar at Alpha, there are only a handful of options on the hard copy menu. It doesn’t matter. Just as you don’t expect to be offered 100 different wine options at a friend’s house, it is both exciting and comforting to know that the two or three wines she’s pouring are her favourites (but you should start with a cocktail, which thanks to an expensive evaporator and some creative magic will taste unlike anything you’ve ever known).
It’s a surprisingly fulsome food menu, beginning with light baking and snacks and progressing toward intense, meaty mouthfuls. Highlights include the grilled cheese: Japanese milk bread flattened and stacked with “plastic cheese” and carpeted with honeyed balsamic and black caviar (“nothing melts as well as the plastic cheese so we thought ‘why not spend the money on extra caviar?’”); half a pink grapefruit, sugared and scorched like a creme brulee; a potato is grilled in its jacket then flattened and blackened by a scorching hot brick and layered in rich flavours and textures: brown butter, roasted yeast, salmon roe and vinegar.
Most extraordinary of all is the spring puff—an impossibly light, eclair-like structure filled with yoghurt and vanilla mousse then glazed with parsley and white chocolate icing and topped with cut green herbs. You might wonder how it’s possible to garnish a dessert with fresh herbs but it works—Verner’s culinary imagination once again proving it is unmatched in New Zealand, possibly in the world.