Emma Mettrick and Paul Howells are a well-known duo in the restaurant trade, having owned The Little Bistro in Akaroa for five years, before selling it and returning to Christchurch to open Twenty Seven Steps in New Regent Street in August 2015.
‘Christchurch is my hometown and we felt very sentimental about it post quakes – we can’t rebuild a city but we can create a space to eat and drink in. We were determined to go back into the central city as we feel every city needs a centre.
‘I fell in love with New Regent Street when I was a fine arts student. I used to pour wine at a small gallery there years ago, so when we were looking for a space, we walked in and the space felt just right,’ explains Emma.
Cantabrians will remember the space as the Coffee Pot, and before the quakes it was Maido, a Japanese restaurant, with its signature arched windows looking onto the colourful pastel buildings and busy Regent Street below.
When they took the space over it was an empty shell and they kept the renovation simple; white wall tiles, tall blackboard menus and dark wooden tables on dark wooden floorboards. The space is both friendly and intimate, reminiscent of a Melbourne terrace restaurant.
Each dish is well considered. Paul and his culinary team match the subtle flavours with seasonal local produce. ‘I’d describe myself as a fastidious cook, one who is obsessed with cleanliness and organisation, and above all presentation, whilst Emma deals with every precise detail outside of the kitchen and she is a master at it,’ he explains.
‘We’ve honed our skills after many years of experience; it’s been a long culinary evolution for both of us and we now know what is important,’ continues Emma. ‘We had five years working in Akaroa and many years working in various other kitchens since first meeting in Galway, Ireland, back in 2007.
‘There we both worked for Aiobheann McNamara at Ard Bia, a well-known restaurant in Galway. New Zealand-born Jess Murphy was the head chef at the time and she has since opened her own award-winning dining room called Kai.’
Paul originates from Wales, and is now well accustomed to living at the bottom of the South Pacific, although he does enjoy the occasional trip across the Tasman to educate his culinary palate. ‘When I was about seven, my older brother was at catering college and our house was full of cookbooks and chef aprons, so I was always surrounded by food ideas. My mother was a great cook, she taught me some of her favourites when I was young – I even still use her pumpkin, feta and rosemary bread recipe that she taught me, it’s our daily baked house bread,’ he chuckles.
In order to keep the awards coming in, and believe me there are many, the team at Twenty Seven Steps is now numbered at 28 staff, all skilled and educated in food flavours with regular wine tastings to add breadth to their wine knowledge.
‘We like working with people with passion, choose wines that we love and source the best produce we can find locally. The formula is very simple: we deal with people we like who make things we love! Having been owner/operators now for nearly 10 years we have fostered some lovely relationships with different wineries and suppliers.
‘At the moment we have a great source of pink oyster mushrooms, and next week there’ll be something else delivered. It’s always a mystery, but we love it,’ Paul concludes.
WORDS Georgi Waddy IMAGES Charlie Jackson
Visit twentysevensteps.co.nz for more information.
Learn how to create Paul Howells’ ultimate winter warmer recipe, Chorizo, Clam and Chickpea Ragout with Saffron Aioli.