Tom Hishon and Josh Helm
Tom Hishon (left) and Josh Helm founded the popular restaurant Orphans Kitchen seven years ago. Now they’ve come to Britomart to open kingi (short for kingfish), a brand-new, all-day restaurant in historic Masonic House, which has been refurbished as part of The Hotel Britomart development. Here, they talk to Britomart’s Jeremy Hansen about their history with food and wine.
JEREMY HANSEN: Your all-day restaurant named kingi [which is the shorter name for kingfish, the New Zealand species that’s a highly regarded catch for amateur anglers] is now open in Britomart, but let’s go back a bit. Were you both interested in food when you were younger?
TOM HISHON: Josh’s father is really into wine, and Josh worked throughout high school at Caro’s wine [store in Auckland]. My mum and her partner had a vineyard in Waipara for about eight years. I didn’t grow up there but would go and do harvests every year and be around winemakers, and that was where my love for wine started.
JOSH HELM: The family always got together at dinner time and sat at the table and Mum and Dad were good cooks – they just loved eating good food and drinking good wine and being around good people.
JEREMY HANSEN: It’s still quite a leap from that early interest to opening your own place.
JOSH HELM: We talked about it for years when we were travelling. We met in London through mates and share the same beliefs and loves. We were the only ones talking about wine in our early 20s when all our mates were in that Aussie pub.
TOM HISHON: We’d save up and go for nice meals out and when we travelled together it was always going where the food was good. It was about searching out those experiences. In the early days I was working my ass off [as a chef] at great restaurants in London and an end goal for me was always to have my own restaurant. Josh’s love for food and wine as well just sort of made sense and we talked about opening a restaurant when we got back to New Zealand. It didn’t happen straight away - it was years in the making.
JEREMY HANSEN: How did you know what you wanted Orphans Kitchen to be like?
TOM HISHON: We could never sum up what Orphans was when we opened, because we only knew what we didn’t want it to be. It was just a restaurant where we’d like to eat. Kind of like an extension of dining at home.
JEREMY HANSEN: What has changed since then in the restaurant scene?
TOM HISHON: It used to be very different in the restaurant scene: restaurants could dictate the terms of how a diner would dine, but now we live in a world where restaurants that are going to be successful, that’s reversed. People’s lifestyles have changed and the more flexibility you can have, the better.
JEREMY HANSEN: Orphans Kitchen is continuing as a daytime restaurant, and will continue its daytime service, and you’ll be operating kingi in Britomart. Can you talk a bit about what kingi is like?
TOM HISHON: People always asked us if we would do another restaurant and we were like, no way! What was really appealing about coming to Britomart was being part of the long-term vision for downtown Auckland. It’s the chance to be part of something bigger than just a restaurant. And the opportunity to have learned from our experiences at Orphans and develop a new food concept is exciting. We like the idea of a place that people can come and not spend the earth, that they can sit down for a glass of wine and olives one night and another night they might sit down for a longer meal. There’s no pressure, it’s a neighbourhood home away from home. As well as creating this downtown hangout, it’s exciting to think of guests from around the world, when they’re allowed back, and around the country coming to a place like The Hotel Britomart, and for kingi to be that introduction point to a cuisine - for people to book into a hotel and on the ground floor is the most amazing restaurant that allows you to delve straight into the cuisine. And you want guests to feel like they’re in an authentic space and that locals dine there. Whenever you travel you feel like you’re in a good spot if you can feel locals around you, you feel like you’ve nailed it.
JEREMY HANSEN: Kingi, of course, is short for kingfish, the species that is a prized catch for amateur fishers. Why did you choose that name, and what will the restaurant be serving?
TOM HISHON: With having Orphans the past seven years, our best dishes have always been around fish, and it’s what we love to eat. We’ve always had an intimate relationship with our fishermen, and love telling their story and supporting their style of fishing from a sustainability aspect, as well as health and nutrition. When I think of a representation of New Zealand cuisine I think of the ocean – it’s a life force, it’s very much a true reflection of our food identity as a nation. It just felt right, the building and the location feel right, it’s all steering in that direction.
JOSH HELM: And I guess we’d really like to change New Zealanders’ perception of seafood. For example, most people view Kahawai as a great fish to smoke or used as bait, which it is – but it's actually one of the most beautiful fish to eat raw when it’s properly aged. Same goes with skipjack tuna or bonito, which you'll find at your local gas station's bait freezer or in a tin. It's a shame you can't find it in your local fish shop, because most people have no idea that it's also delicious when served rare or raw too.
TOM HISHON: So having a restaurant that focuses on these species of fish, it’s conservation because you’re bringing awareness to people around eating other species that you see on the menu everywhere. That’s doing better for the ocean than everyone eating snapper and hapuka.
JEREMY HANSEN: What does kingi have in common with Orphans Kitchen, if anything?
TOM HISHON: What we do well at Orphans Kitchen is we give staff an opportunity to be themselves and let their personality come through in a way that is quite uniquely them, a representation of New Zealand. It’s something that regulars always tell us about, which is really reassuring - that’s quite special when it comes to service. It also makes the team feel good about what they do, and feel proud.
JEREMY HANSEN: Wine is also going to be a big part of the experience at your new place. Can you talk a little about that?
TOM HISHON: Like the food, the wine has the same technique applied. It’s all about grapes that are grown with care and love, and wines that reflect their region and their land. That’s what I look for in food, food that has that connection to the land, and that’s what I love about wine – it is an expression of the land as well. That can be any style of wine – it doesn’t mean we’re focused on natural wines and old world wines, it’s all categories. It’s about care and intention.