Prance over to Parnell for a lunch or dinner date at Woodpecker Hill

[gallery ids="5329,5337,5331,5335,5332,5333,5336,5334,5330"] Words and photography by Lauren Matthews from The Kitchen Collective. My most vivid memories of Parnell involve RTD-loving, fake-ID-wielding pubescents. I may or may not have been one of them. Since then, thankfully my tastes have matured, but the once lively suburb has too – unlike fine wine, however, not in a good way. Other burgeoning areas had robbed Parnell of its former glory. Now the neglected precinct is experiencing something of a renaissance, thanks to the opening of a select handful of repeat-visit-worthy eateries and bars. Enter: Woodpecker Hill. What was once a gloomy pub has been completely transformed by renowned restaurateur Mark Wallbank (creator and owner of Ponsonby's popular trio MooChowChow, Blue Breeze Inn and Chop Chop), into a bright, airy, and yet masculine space. Tones of copper and textures of fur compliment the wooden and steel interiors. A spacious courtyard welcomes guests to the magic within. At the helm of Woodpecker Hill’s bustling kitchen is chef Che Barrington – the well-known master of East meets West dining. For those that aren’t familiar with his style of cuisine, MooChowChow pays homage to classical Thai food with a modern spin. The Blue Breeze Inn encapsulates the four corners of new-age Chinese offerings, while Chop Chop explores Japan’s one-bowl-wonder, Ramen. Wallbank and Barrington’s latest endeavor doesn’t entirely fall under a certain country’s strict flavour repertoire. Instead it pulls ingredients such as tamarind, kaffir lime, chilli and palm sugar, which are undeniably staples of Asian cuisine, and pairs them with Western cooking techniques. The end result – a harmonious taste triumph. The menu isn’t designed to please vegetarians - this is an Oriental smoke house, after all – yet tofu is an option, if you must. Delicately-smoked beef brisket is served in a myriad of ways. Tender duck is infused with house-made curry paste, from mortar and pestle straight to burning-hot wok. Soft-shell crab is flash fried alongside banana chilies and shallots. There are oysters, and sought after native Thai betel leafs topped with house-pickled papaya, peanuts, ginger and mint. Each dish designed to share. One thing I’ve always admired from Woodpecker Hill’s sibling restaurants is their dessert menus, where diners were no longer forced to submit to green tea ice cream or some other poor attempt at dessert after feasting on Asian cuisine. Woodpecker Hill’s pineapple fritters sit atop a black-flecked vanilla bean custard, the star of the dish a fried banana cocooned in thin strands of crisp pastry. The other sweet offerings are just as appealing. Top the aforementioned wonders off with a masterfully-stocked bar and cocktail list, world-class staff, and an atmosphere that all of Wallbank’s institutions effortlessly pull off, and I’m contemplating setting up camp in this newly-minted restaurant for the foreseeable future - see you there. More details online here.