WHERE WE ATE
Cuisine’s team of reviewers assess eateries around NZ
Ampersand Eatery 15/20 228 Ōrākei Rd, Ōrākei 09 522 9503, ampersandeatery.nz Breakfast, coffee & lunch 7 days, dinner Wed-Sun Mains $26-$29
SINCE OPENING IN March, Ampersand has become a firm favourite for eastern suburb dwellers who were hitherto a little starved when it came to excellence in local surrounds. The open-air deck looking out onto an expansive view of the Ōrākei Basin is a delightful spot to spend a long lunch sipping on a rosé or an excellent coffee from business partners Espresso Workshop. Ampersand is part of the Ōrākei Bay Village development in an old warehouse that includes the likes of Farro Fresh and Brothers Beer. Because this is Auckland, it’s a parking nightmare, but if you’re coming from town, then it’s worth hopping on the train – Ōrākei station is over the road.
The expansive space manages to feel intimate at night. The deck awnings and screens come down and the lighting is good. When we dined there was a draft, however, that blew across the dining room, marring the cosiness a little – but I did note a pile of blankets in a basket for those in need. Running the floor on our visit was Matt Woodward; charming and efficient on a busy night.
Chef-owner Mikey Newlands was head chef at elegant country restaurant Bracu and fine-dining pop-up Allechante, but at this all-day eatery, the food is casual – which is not to say it isn’t exciting or interesting. There is plenty of technique going into the dishes, but it feels relaxed and unpretentious.
The drinks list is small and sharp, curated by Newlands’ partner Amanda Rogers (former sommelier at Sidart), with a tight offering of interesting wines and beers. My beer geek companion practically squealed with delight when a ParrotDog Bloodhound red ale was suggested to accompany her starter of house-smoked salmon instead of a wine; and it was a very smart, cohesive match.
That salmon, which has been on the menu in slightly different variations since Ampersand opened, was very good. The smoking was light – really more of a cure – while the marinated leeks it came with were delicate. The superb accompanying crayfish oil dominated the dish, but it was harmonious. Another entree of drunken chicken was a delight – moist poached chicken breast with a rich, dark, black sesame sauce that was lightened with pickled cucumber, along with some sliced green beans. Both entrees were large and attractive to look at.
The requisite dish of many a menu for a vegetarian is mushroom risotto, often bland and uninspiring. Not so
here, where instead we got an intensely flavoured dish of perfectly cooked spelt and flavoursome mushrooms, with some textural interest in the form of roasted almonds and sunflower seeds. A bisteeya of pigeon and quail was another highlight – with flaky pastry, delicately favoured meat, a silky parsnip puree, crunch from pomegranate seeds and cracked wheat and sweetness from golden raisins, it was rich and warming on a cool night. We adored a side of broccoli with a sriracha emulsion and candied peanuts too, but for many here the highlight will be dessert.
A “Snickers” bar that’s definitely better than the original comprised a rich salted caramel sauce, some moreish darkly roasted peanuts and a light-asair peanut parfait, with shavings of chocolate and a light but rich chocolate ganache. The chocolate fondant – a dish so easy to get wrong – was on point, with a crisp and light outer, gooey middle and a perfectly brûlée glaze on a side of roasted banana. We liked that we were warned that the fondant would take 15 minutes – it was worth the wait.
What is apparent here is Ampersand’s appeal to all ages, evident in the many family groups out for a weeknight dinner, a casual weekend brunch or a spot of lunch. Food is appealing to both the wallet, the eye and the palate, and the drinks list is reasonably priced and interesting. Newlands and Rogers have created a carefree destination that ticks a great many boxes.
LEFT The pigeon and quail bisteeya at Ampersand OPPOSITE Ampersand’s owners, Amanda Rogers and Mikey Newlands