There’s a huge space in my heart for earth mothers. You know the sort of woman I mean – the one who’s the hub of her family; who makes everyone feel welcome, holding their well-being close to her heart. She’s the matriarch apparent.
When we first meet Rochelle Smith, I know that she’s the beating heart of Burgster. Noticeably pregnant, she’s working the floor, welcoming, taking orders, having a chat, asking how the meals are going…
Rochelle is the one who’s put out the call across the sea, and the men have come. A photographer by profession, she saw the potential for the family-run restaurant they’d all dreamed of, calling together the team, just as her family has done for generations.
“I always wanted us to live close together because of our tight bond, so when I saw the chance, I recruited them,” she tells us jokingly. “They took the chance, quit their jobs, and moved here. No! Honestly, we all shared the vision for the business, and had numerous meetings collaborating and reaching agreement on our final concept, spending five months together building Burgster.”
They took out the lease on two shops in a quiet back street of Palm Beach, cut out walls and began construction. Drawing inspiration from Brooklyn NYC, in particular Williamsburg’s warehouse hipster culture, they’ve created a raw but welcoming venue with a small bar on one side, an intimate dining area with a choice of booths or tables in the middle, flanked by a spacious open kitchen at the back.
The team have experience on their side and it really shows! Rochelle’s brother Jarome, who had designed bars and restaurants in Auckland for the past ten years, spearheaded the design concept and fitout with Rob Rivers (his brother-in-law). Rob managed some of Auckland’s best restaurants and bars before moving to the Coast, where he is well known, working in Commune and Avvia before joining the Smith family as creators and owners of Burgster. Another brother, Peter, a carpenter with ten years’ experience, led the team in the restaurant’s construction. The family team make up Sons of Castle St Pty Ltd, named after their grandpa’s house in Castle Street, Grey Lynn, Auckland.
“We all grew up in grandparents’ house,” relates Rochelle. “My grandfather cooked and my grandma baked. All the men in the family have cooked for generations. They still do.”
It’s this beating heart hospitality which makes Burgster shine. I fondly remember staying in a Maori house in Lower Hutt many years ago, the trays of food arriving at the door from other family members because two of us were guests. They’re a culture which welcomes with food. I tell this to Rochelle, and she laughs.
“It’s how our family keeps the kids together,” she tells me. “Mum would put the call out. My mum, sisters and brothers would all cook together. Someone would say: ‘Are you making that pudding? Yeah!’ It’s Maori hospitality. There’s so much joy around food.”
There’s joy in this menu as well. Somehow I’m expecting big Maori-style burgers riding on the back of the American gravy train, but that’s not what we get at all. Don’t make snap judgements from a name, I remind myself!
Instead, there’s a cross-section of more interesting food, Auckland-style.
“We shot ourselves in the food a bit, starting with an idea but not a whole idea. We wanted the menu to be more balanced than just burgers. It’s the food we love to eat,” explains Rochelle, “sustainably sourced local produce, free-range eggs and meat, organic where possible.”
Although gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian options are not clearly indicated on the menu and two of our choices are out of stock (Bug sliders and King prawns), we’re soon informed of choices, settling on four small dishes ($15 – $19) and a burger ($14) between three of us. We learn too that little tweeks for gluten-free diners have already been made, the chicken crumbed in potato flour, dairy placed on the side, etc.
The Kingfish ceviche is an absolute hit – small pieces of sparkling fish served on discs of oyster cream are a taste sensation, Crispy chicken skins with kale, anchovy and parsley dressing is an unusual novelty dish with balance of taste and texture, as has the Tempura fish burger, the crisp fillet of fish enveloped in a cloud-like brioche bun. Lamb ribs with skordalia and cumin paprika oil are delicious, while our Quinoa salad ticks the DF GF V boxes but makes me think they’re missing out on the fun!
Fully licensed with no BYO, Stone & Wood’s Garden Ale and Newstead Brewing’s Golden Ale are on tap, and there’s a select choice of bottled beer and interesting boutique wine. We settle on the rare Jilly’s White Wolf of Cumbria, a Tempranillo with the addition of Gewurztraminer, made near Armidale NSW. It’s fruit-driven but light enough to pair well with our food choices.
Overall, the disappointment of missing out on seafood is soon overlooked due to the standard of the dishes we tried – innovative and interesting food cooked really well, and friendly efficient service.
Above all, there’s heart and a gratefulness that people have understood and come to dine with them.
We felt enveloped in this welcoming space, as much as if we had been dining around the Smith’s own family table. Such hospitality is a rare and beautiful thing!
2 – 3 Philippine Parade, Palm Beach; Ph: 07 5525 0637
Open: Tues – Thurs 5pm – late; Fri – Sun 11am – late. Note: Burgster does not take bookings.
Credit: Group portrait by Rochelle Smith. Used with permission.
This review has also been published on More Gold Coast.