When you sit down for dinner at Shepherd, Wellington, prepare yourself for a sensational, taste-driven experience. Every ingredient, through to the drinks menu, has been based around three things: Does this taste good? Is it nourishing? Will I feel good about eating or drinking it? It’s safe to say the answer is ‘yes’ to all three.
Shepherd restaurant, which opened in August 2016, is the vision of leading Wellington chef Shepherd Elliott (of award-winning café Ti Kouka and Leeds St Bakery) and craft beer aficionado Sean Golding (of Goldings Free Dive). The pair met when Elliott opened his bakery next door to Goldings on Leeds St, and it was an instant meeting of minds. “A bakery was such a great idea to build a neighbourhood on,” says Golding, who was already a fan of Elliott's “insane food” and “sustainable low-waste approach” at Ti Kouka. Elliott loved that Goldings provided a smoke-free outdoor courtyard and balcony.
Shepherd, which does dinners only, is a welcome addition to the community of small businesses tucked in around the Hannahs Factory apartments in Eva and Leeds St that also include Pizza Pomodoro, Wellington Chocolate Factory and Fix & Fogg peanut butter makers.
Sourcing local produce, knowing their suppliers and their stories is key for Elliott and Golding. “When you know the people and why they are doing it, and their ideals behind doing it, you start to feel good about serving that and hopefully you can express that, and then your customer starts to feel good as well. It’s like a trickle-down of niceness,” Golding explains.
Elliott has brought his low-waste practices to Shepherd, using the stalks off all the plants and “every bit of everything that comes in”. They’ve also added a Grow Room, originally intended to grow herbs for the kitchen but it’s proved a tricky space for things to thrive aside from bay, Vietnamese mint and a few Tuscan herbs. However, it’s pretty and people have the choice of dining in there, in the main part of the restaurant, or at the bar fronting onto the kitchen where they can watch and chat to the chefs. Table settings come with tea towels in lieu of napkins and the menu, devised by Elliott, is exciting and an expression of his creative side. It is also very changeable, depending on what comes in from the farm or community gardens.
A popular dish is the smoked eel savoury custard, which is based loosely on a savoury steamed custard. We had a version with oysters – it was divine! Other recommended dishes which did not disappoint were the kimchi fried rice with kale, ginger, sesame and peanuts, topped with a fried egg, to which pork or smoked fish can be added; and a plate of pumpkin, seeds, confit garlic, salsa verde, almonds and smoked yoghurt – a vegetarian dish that would also satisfy meat eaters in terms size and flavour.
We couldn't go past the steamed milk pikelet, topped with either cured lightly smoked salmon, pulled pork and pickled apple or mushroom pate with pickled walnuts and balsamic.
Plates arrive at your table trayed by knowledgeable staff who have a friendly and slick manner. “There’s a lot of experience here with staff who’ve done fine dining but now they can express themselves when they are serving through our tone here, which is exciting,” says Golding.
And why do just dinner? “It means we can really concentrate on that because that’s all we do,” Elliott says. “Doing one service a day means you can lift the standard.”
Shepherd, 1/5 Eva St, Wellington. (04) 385 7274 Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday 5.30pm to late.