13.5/20 3 Mt Eden Rd, Grafton 09 309 3740, kaipasifika.com Lunch & dinner 7 days Mains $28-$32
It’s hard to deny that the food of our Pacific neighbours has had a pretty bad rap in this country, and it’s to the credit of Robert Oliver, the Kiwi-born chef raised in Samoa and Fiji, that he’s doing his bit to show us that Pacific cuisines deserve some respect.
Oliver’s crowd-funding campaign to launch an Auckland restaurant that celebrates South Pacific food fell short of its target, but Kai Pasifika secured enough from private investors to open in May this year, with Fijian chef Bertrand Jang at the helm in the kitchen.
The Mt Eden Rd space was formerly occupied by seafood restaurant Ika and before that Italian joint O’Sarracino. Originally the chapel of a funeral home, it’s a tricky space to imbue with much ambience, and on the night we dined we wondered if it wasn’t in danger of feeling, well, a bit funereal.
Granted, it was a rainy night early in the week, so it was on the quiet side, but the largely bare white walls – which, admittedly, avoid kitsch and cliché – were crying out for some colour and fun. We’ve heard rumours a mural is in the works, so let’s hope it comes to fruition.
The menu, which spans the South Pacific, is probably the most vegetarianunfriendly I’ve encountered in a while, with not a single meat- or fish-free dish among the mains, and only the KP popcorn and daily soup that sounded potentially vego on the entree list. Presumably plant-based eaters would be limited to those two and some sides if they didn’t want to go hungry – and we did love the island fries with mango mayo and the salty, gingery mushroom sapasui (Samoan chop suey).
My dining companion and I both opted for raw fish starters, with Fijian kokoda and the on-trend Hawaiian
RIGHT The kokoda at Kai Pasifika BELOW Kai Pasifika’s raw salmon poke and the dining room