District House first opened its doors in June 2016, a phoenix from the ashes of the Newz Bar, and is quickly establishing a reputation for quality food and exceptional service. Situated within the architect Walter Aubrey Thomas’ New Zealand House at 18 Water Street, District House is a multi-functional space comprising of a bright and airy cocktail bar and lounge at the front of the building.
The main restaurant is situated at the rear, and houses a separate bar and can seat up to 350 for dinner or up to 600 for a reception or event. There is also an exclusive VIP mezzanine, situated at the rear of the building that also offers a range of private dining options for guests. It is an ambitious venture that matches Thomas’ most famous commission, the Royal Liver Building. So from the off, you are dining within a pretty hefty historical context.
Sometimes, in these review situations, it is good to be guided by the staff, as they should be best positioned to offer an insight into the establishment’s philosophy of cuisine and service. If all things are good, then their passion should be obvious. So, we enlisted the help of Lily, our first hostess for the afternoon, and, after a warm and friendly welcoming, we could not have asked for a better ambassador for District House.
Taking her recommendation solely from the Lunch menu, our culinary journey commenced with the salt and pepper calamari with garlic aloi on a seaweed base. Crisp and tender, these morsels were delicious, the seaweed adding an endearing counterpoint. My culinary co-conspirator opted for what was basically a contemporary re-boot of Chicken Kiev; mini fried pockets, beautifully executed, and again following Lilly’s recommendation, equally satisfying.
For the main course, we ordered the seared tuna on a bed of vegetables and noodles – the noodles being a brand new element to the dish, rather than the nicoise salad, and the Cajun Chicken. The tuna was perfectly cooked, delicate and refreshing. Presentation impeccable. The Cajun Chicken with a Sour dough toastie with French fries made all the right noises, despite the fries being ever so slightly al dente – a very minor quibble. Asking the knowledgeable Lily for a glass of red wine to accompany my tuna, she fetched a delightful Shiraz, which complemented my chosen dish perfectly.
Sadly, Lily’s shift had come to an end, but she handed us over to the equally knowledgeable Helena, who advised the carrot cake and bread and butter pudding to finish. My carrot cake not only tasted terrific, but looked equally appealing, with waver thin circles of carrot and Ferran Adrià inspired foam to garnish. It adds weight to the idea that food is not only enjoyed by the stomach, but is feasted on by the eyes beforehand. The bread and butter pudding was given an equally enthusiastic welcome. A long standing bête noir of my mine is the quality of the coffee that is sometimes served up, but the District House has this covered admirably.
A good restaurant works on many levels. It needs to be welcoming and comfortable both with regard to its environment, atmosphere, cuisine and service. The District House succeeds on all these points. It is clearly obvious that the kitchen brigade and service staff work very well in together, and this is its real strength. We spoke to the Head Chef and Duty Manager, as well as the bar staff and the aforementioned Lily and Helena. All had an absolute passion for the dining and recreational experience that District House has to offer, and you really can’t ask for more than that.
Heck, they even had Tom Ashbrook, the Brit Floyd keyboard player, playing his unique take of standards in the corner. His version of “Smells like Teen spirit” was just fabulous, and topped off a perfect afternoon. Messer’s Duckworth and Hesketh, you have chosen your staff well. And Walter Aubrey Thomas looks down, and smiles in agreement.
For more information on District House visit their official website here.