Hugo’s Bistro

Through sev­eral Auck­land cafes and restau­rants, Clare and Joost Van Den Berg have opened a se­ries of din­ing rooms for the city. But with their lat­est, Hugo’s Bistro on Short­land Street, they’ve cre­ated a space at once pol­ished and homely.

HOME Magazine NZ - - Art & Design - Text Si­mon Far­rell-Green Pho­tog­ra­phy David Straight

Auck­land gets a taste of Europe in the CBD

Hugo’s is the fourth Auck­land res­tau­rant of hus­band-and-wife own­ers Clare and Joost Van Den Berg. They started with the cel­e­brated café Zus & Zo in Herne Bay, then moved on to Taka­puna with Zomer, be­fore open­ing Odettes three years ago, which hap­pens to be right next door to the HOME of­fice and func­tions a lit­tle like our meet­ing room, only with re­ally good food (and bet­ter cush­ions). Now, with Hugo’s, they’ve built an­other liv­ing room for the city. It’s a long, thin space on Short­land Street, handy to the tow­ers across the road and the shop­ping precincts around High Street. “We wanted that Euro­pean ev­ery­day bistro feel,” says Clare. The re­fit took close to a year and in­volved gut­ting the space and re­plac­ing all the ser­vices, right through to the new steel-framed front win­dows and doors. To this, Clare added rounded oak fur­ni­ture and green cor­duroy up­hol­stery, along with be­spoke brass lights made by Jimmy’s Hand­built. It’s el­e­gant but warm, nei­ther mas­cu­line nor fem­i­nine. There’s a ter­razzo floor and a green mar­ble bar, off­set by a wall of cedar shiplap on one side and an­other plas­tered with Mar­morino, an Ital­ian plas­ter made from lime and mar­ble dust (the Ro­mans used it, and so did Re­nais­sance Vene­tians), tinted pink and laid on so its rough­ness and im­per­fec­tions are on show. “I wanted it to look lived in,” says Clare, “and I didn’t want to paint that wall.” Day­time is busy, with cor­po­rates and lawyers do­ing break­fast and lunch. For the din­ner ser­vice, the lights are low, pooled over the ta­bles. The menu runs through com­fort food, with a twist: you might find a spe­cial of meat­balls on pap­pardelle with pick­led cel­ery cut­ting through the meaty-toma­toey sauce, or you might find schnitzel with mush­room jus, or salt-fish frit­ters. The wine list is short, el­e­gant and tends to Euro­pean: an Ital­ian soave to go with your meat­balls, say, on a sunny day at the bar. As with Odettes, the cou­ple worked on the de­sign with Nat Cheshire and Da­jiang Tai at Cheshire Ar­chi­tects, who helped this time with the ini­tial lay­out of the res­tau­rant as well as el­e­va­tions and con­struc­tion draw­ings. They also act as a sound­ing board when needed, says Clare. Through the four projects, Clare has slowly re­fined her de­sign sen­si­bil­ity. “I guess your in­te­rior changes and your di­rec­tion changes and you grow up a bit,” she says of the grad­ual pro­gres­sion from scrubbed ta­bles and vin­tage light fit­tings in Herne Bay, to pol­ished in­ner-city bistro. Though she has no for­mal train­ing, Clare worked in film for years and, in a sense, her in­te­ri­ors have all the ap­peal and dance of a film set. “Th­ese ones have to last a bit longer though,” she says, re­call­ing her hor­ror at the first ding in the bar at Odettes – which now looks nicely worn.

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