What makes it special?
Should this work? Barbecue, Texas-style, or at least pan-southern states, combined with Chinese flavours, and washed down, if that’s what you fancy, with your choice of a gazillion bourbons. Well, of course it should work. That’s what truly good restaurants do, isn’t it? Take you somewhere new and wonderful?
Behind the scenes:
Woodpecker Hill won our Best New Restaurant award last year, and while it hasn’t yet sparked the whole Parnell renaissance we hoped for, Woodpecker itself is definitely doing the business. It’s always crowded with happy punters and the menu is full of delights. Whether it’s lunch or dinner and whether you perch at the counter or take a booth and have a little party, get ready for some lip-smackin’ thrills.
A favourite dish:
Fourteen-hour smoked beef brisket served with green chilli, lemongrass and galangal.
What it offers:
Shared-plate options / Free-range chicken and/or pork / Takes large groups / Bar / Bourbon and whisky specialists / Craft beer selection
At Woodpecker Hill Mark Wallbank and Che Barrington have taken the Thai street food influence from their successful MooChowChow and into the mix have chucked a large dollop of American smoked barbecue style.
The result is a wildly eclectic barrage of tastes and, judging from the crowd when we visited, one likely to be wildly successful. Even the decor is a terrific hodgepodge. Usually the fit-out of an establishment comes a very long way down my priorities when it comes to judging a restaurant. But here it is hard not to be impressed by the copper-coloured bell-shaped lampshades that look as though they have been looted from some Asian temple, while there are marble-topped tables straight from a retro American saloon and the check-out desk appears to be set in a metal channel full of running water.
The newest restaurant in Parnell achieved something special before even opening for business. Supplanting a pub charmingly called The Bog, it reduced by one the number of Irish bars in the world. When it comes to ridding the planet of colcannon and beef-and-Guinness pie, every little bit helps, I say.
It's hard to recognise the building now, after a wildly eclectic refit that includes clamshell lampshades, sheepskin seat-covers, wrought-iron gates and upward-opening windows, which were propped ajar on the warm summer evening we went. The goblin's-cave dunnies, with music piped through excellent speakers, are an adventure in themselves.
Woodpecker Hill had been open only a few days when I booked, a week ahead, but I could only get a table for 5.30. That's hardly surprising: it's the new venture by restaurateur-chef team Mark Wallbank and Che Barrington, who have form as creators of original and exciting cuisine.
Totally mad. Delightful. Energetic. Brave. Flooded with eager locals. I’ve found myself using many ways to describe the latest venture from the team who brought us Blue Breeze Inn, Chop Chop and, before that, MooChowChow — all of them on Ponsonby Rd, and none of which can quite prepare you for Woodpecker Hill in Parnell.
Inside the purpose-built building is a vast space with a design aesthetic that is a crazy mash-up of styles borrowed from cultures and flights of fancy from Bali to American smokehouse to the grandeur left behind by the French in Vietnam.
Did I mention the giant clamshell lampshades and fleecy brown New Zealand sheepskins thrown around? Somehow, it manages to work. The space is divided cleverly into different dining areas, it has a bar and a section overlooking the hectic kitchen and, as is the trademark of this group, diners are crammed in fairly tight so it feels more like a party rather than a sedate night out for dinner.