Little Jimmy: Epsom's bustling new eatery
“Local” is what bustling Little Jimmy Bar and Eatery in the Auckland suburb of Epsom is all about.
“Local” in the sense that it is a walk-to restaurant that is well frequented by the people who live around it and “local” in that it only uses food, wine and liquor from New Zealand.
Returning home after a long period working as a chef in many parts of the world, chef Russell Billing was eager to use Kiwi products, not just as a way to familiarise himself with what was available but also as a good way to help him feel at home here as a chef.
Everything used at Little Jimmy is Kiwi — this includes staples like flour, as well as local versions of things that have to be imported, like sugar and coffee, not to mention the many ingredients from smaller local producers that are used on the menu, such as traditionally cured meats from local producers like Otellos.
Confining your shopping list to Kiwi products is challenging at times for a conscientious chef, equating price and quality, for example, can be difficult but Little Jimmy has done it. Naturally the wine is all from New Zealand and even the spirits used in the bar are Kiwi. All this gives Little Jimmy a point of difference right from the start.
I asked maître d’ Nick Harding whether they would call themselves a bistro, but with the unpretentiousness that percolates through Little Jimmy he replied “no, we are an eatery” — and that is evidenced by the place’s huge repeat local clientele, as well as all those who travel across town to eat there. Prices are kept as low as possible without sacrificing quality. This means there are no flashy expensive cuts of meat or fish, just delicious dishes using secondary cuts and less popular fish varieties, transformed by Russell’s culinary skill.
I’d describe the food as “modern Kiwi”. Most dishes have a basis in traditional cuisines with classical techniques, but they exemplify the thing Kiwi chefs are so good at — using old ideas in a new way, with our own ingredients.
Nick describes this sort of cookery as “food to eat” and he means food that is not trying to be novel or provocative (although it is “cutting edge” in its own way), but long-cooked dishes and old favourites that are not often found in New Zealand restaurants, with a new spin.
Given Little Jimmy’s repeat clientele, it also has to be a menu with plenty of variation and have dishes people will want to eat more than once. I tasted the dishes that follow, and they definitely fit this description.