DEAD RESTAU­RANTS

Metro looks back on a decade of Auck­land eat­ing.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents - TEXT — SI­MON FARRELL-GREEN

Metro looks back on a decade of Auck­land eat­ing.

Adecade is a re­ally long time in hos­pi­tal­ity: cities change, their peo­ple change and the food scene changes. Back in 2010, Karanga­hape Rd had Coco’s Cantina — then a year old — and Satya, and not a lot else. Pon­sonby Rd was the place to be, and there was al­most nowhere to eat in the CBD. Ten years later, we con­sider the glo­ri­ous fail­ures, grand ex­per­i­ments and much-lamented clo­sures that helped bring Auck­land’s eat­ing scene alive.

Man­darin

Man­darin was a very beau­ti­ful restau­rant — de­signed by Cheshire Ar­chi­tects — in a base­ment on Fort Lane: you’ll know it now as Sid and Chand Sahrawat’s Cas­sia. Back then, it was darker, mood­ier, with in­cred­i­bly low light­ing and a menu of dumplings and Yun­nan, Hu­nan, Sichuan and Xin­jiang food — a self-de­scribed “ex­plo­ration of China’s culi­nary heart­land” — and a very good wine list. It was meant to take Chi­nese food from cheap eats to high end, and it suc­ceeded, briefly. I re­mem­ber go­ing to a lunch at which we drank a $1000 bot­tle of some­thing French, paid for by the owner, and I won­dered where his money came from; maybe it was pre­dictable that it folded a few months later, ow­ing $320,000 to its land­lord, ar­chi­tects, brew­eries, vine­yards and a mag­a­zine pub­lisher. The owner van­ished soon af­ter.

Lib­er­tine/Mat­ter­horn Re­mem­ber Pack & Com­pany? The hos­pi­tal­ity group burst into Auck­land in a big way in the early 2010s, open­ing a bunch of restau­rants that were pitched at the city’s newly found need for ca­sual din­ing. Some have lasted — Ev­ery­body’s is still there, and so is The Com­mons — though they all dropped off Metro’s Top 50 a few years ago. I al­ways strug­gled with their restau­rants: they seemed for­mu­laic and un­der­cooked, even more so once the new-open­ing crowd moved on and the buzz died down and the group moved its best staff to the new open­ing. In 2014, the group took over a space in Vic­to­ria Park that I re­mem­ber as a 1980s McDon­ald’s and called it Lib­er­tine: it got a lot of

PR, but I couldn’t now tell you what it did. A year or so later, it be­came Mat­ter­horn, the Auck­land ver­sion of the Welling­ton clas­sic, and that wasn’t very good, either. I re­mem­ber a cold, unin­spir­ing evening eat­ing large plates of meat. It now houses a sou­venir shop.

Black Hoof

Oh, I loved Black Hoof, which was a Span­ish-ish tapas-y bar in the space that is now Cul­prit, started by a fel­low named Will who used to work at Ca­sita Miro. It was great — a lovely spot for a beer. It lasted about two years; for some rea­son, Auck­land wasn’t ready for a ca­sual lit­tle bar at the top of the stairs, and its clo­sure was one of those things that makes no sense.

Clooney

Clooney, which could be de­scribed as Auck­land’s most am­bi­tious restau­rant, opened in 2006 in a beau­ti­ful space de­signed by Fearon Hay. Through suc­ces­sive chefs, the de­sire of owner Tony Ste­wart to raise the bar — he once said he wanted the

place to be New Zealand’s first on the World’s 50 Best Restau­rants list — was pal­pa­ble. Some­times it de­liv­ered; some­times it didn’t. It closed in 2019, af­ter 13 years in the busi­ness, and the build­ing is now for lease.

Ella

I’ve spent a lot of time in the space that is now Or­phans Kitchen. Back in the 1990s, it was Stella, and around 2003, it was a Swedish-ish place called Koket (pro­nounced Sherkit, but ev­ery­one called it Cock-it — fun­nily enough, it didn’t last very long). And then it turned into a re­ally good cafe, the name of which I can’t re­mem­ber pre­cisely — was it some­thing like Sea­son? — but which did re­ally good baked Span­ish eggs be­fore that was a thing. Then it was Ella, which had red pan­elling (the same pan­elling that’s now pas­tel at Or­phans) and a short but great bistro menu and a good wine list; I used to go for lunch and a glass of wine on Satur­day af­ter­noons.

Morita

Morita was mad, odd — and won­der­ful. It felt like a scene from Eyes Wide Shut, a base­ment just off Al­bert St with faux col­umns and black table­cloths and a FrenchJa­panese menu fea­tur­ing bur­gundy and Amer­i­can lob­ster. The cook­ing was fan­tas­tic but the place was mur­der­ously ex­pen­sive and it lasted maybe two years. I think there’s a mini-mart there now.

Bi-won Korean BBQ

RIP Bi-won. The last word in Korean bar­be­cue used to op­er­ate out of a bland space down an awk­ward side road in Wairau Park. It was ter­rific. The owner had pre­vi­ously been a butcher, and he im­ported char­coal and condi­ments from Korea; you’d or­der, and he’d bring you a bucket of glow­ing char­coal, pour­ing it with a flour­ish into the bar­be­cue in front of you. I still miss it.

De­li­cious/Sios­tra & The Re­fresh­ment Room

Oh, De­li­cious, how we loved you — at least in the early days, when there was bril­liant hand-made pasta and a queue out the door. These days, it’s Lil­ian, af­ter a few years as Sios­tra, which I never for­gave for serv­ing me an aw­ful dish of over­cooked T-bone steak on too much mash. De­li­cious was re­ally at its best when Hay­den Phiskie and John Pount­ney were run­ning it; it lost some­thing when they sold up, but there was the con­so­la­tion that you could go to Ti­ti­rangi and eat at The Re­fresh­ment Room, un­til they sold that, too.

Now, they’re run­ning Cotto, and you should go there be­fore they get bored and do some­thing else.

Sakanaya

Sakanaya was a bril­liant, un­der­rated Ja­panese surf shack in one of those odd lit­tle spa­ces be­low the leaky build­ing on Sy­monds St that just got re­built. It had a woodsy in­te­rior dressed with surf­boards, and killer food, in­clud­ing cha wan mushi (savoury egg cus­tard) and grilled sar­dines. Auck­land is the lesser with­out it.

Sun­day Painters

Now this is a sad story.

Iso­bel Thom, James Kirk­wood and Es­ther Lamb opened Sun­day Painters in Pon­sonby in 2010; they had pre­vi­ously been in a paint­ing group. It felt like a granny­ish sort of sit­ting room, with green walls, old chairs and table­cloths, granny plates and mis­matched cut­lery.

The cook­ing was won­der­ful, clas­sic — slow-cooked lentils with duck-neck sausage, say, or a slow-cooked duck con­fit; there were lamb shanks and a most ex­cel­lent cas­soulet. How we loved it! Then it got too suc­cess­ful and the part­ners were work­ing too hard, so they sold it to some­one who had clearly never run a restau­rant be­fore and it died shortly af­ter (il­lus­trated at left, from Metro Novem­ber 2013). It’s now Po’ Broth­ers.

Mered­iths

I’m look­ing for­ward to eat­ing at Michael Mered­ith’s new restau­rant when it opens this year in Brit­o­mart. Mered­iths was his fine-din­ing restau­rant on Do­min­ion Rd, and it opened in 2007 just be­fore I went over­seas. By the time I got back, it was the go-to fine-diner in Auck­land; I once ate a veni­son tartare there that has con­tin­ued to de­fine the dish for me. Mered­ith sold it a cou­ple of years ago, a sign many took to mean the be­gin­ning of the end of fine-din­ing in Auck­land; more likely, it was the be­gin­ning of the end of clas­sic fine-din­ing, all starchy table­cloths and hush.

Rocco/MooChowCho­w

Back be­fore Mark Wall­bank spe­cialised in rowdy Asian-in­flu­enced restau­rants, he had a rowdy Span­ish-ish restau­rant called Rocco on the cor­ner of Hep­burn St and Pon­sonby Rd, in a big old house that was ba­si­cally re­built for the restau­rant and that opened in the early 2000s, pro­vid­ing a launch­ing pad for many Auck­land hospo stal­warts. Rocco was a part­ner­ship be­tween Wall­bank and Blair Rus­sell; they also owned Mag­num. When they split, Rocco be­came MooChowCho­w and Mag­num be­came the Pon­sonby Road Bistro. MooChowCho­w was the first place in Auck­land to come very close to what Thai food should taste like, and it was a hell of a lot of fun — I loved the mas­saman curry, a fiery ver­sion of some­thing that is of­ten so bland, and the be­tel leaf en­trées were mag­nif­i­cent.

Dis­trict Din­ing

You’ll know Mimi Gil­mour as the pow­er­house be­hind Burger Burger; be­fore that, she was part of Mex­ico, but her first foray in Auck­land was open­ing Dis­trict Din­ing, a beau­ti­ful space be­hind white shut­ters on Cus­toms St, an Auck­land branch of her and ex-part­ner War­ren Turn­bull’s Dis­trict Din­ing in Syd­ney. It was part of the Brit­o­mart re­nais­sance and one of the first places with a re­ally, re­ally good fitout. It closed in­side a year, to be re­placed by the aw­ful Orleans.

Beirut

Mouth­ful Group was lucky to have Javier Car­mona, the Span­ish-Aus­tralian chef who seems to be able to turn his hand suc­cess­fully to any cui­sine. He started at Mex­ico and headed up most of their restau­rants, in­clud­ing Beirut — a di­rec­tional Mid­dle Eastern eatery with a darkly in­dus­trial fitout. Ev­ery­one loved it ex­cept me: the flavours were good and the space was spec­tac­u­lar, but it felt art-di­rected, too know­ing, a gen­er­ous, big-hearted cui­sine re­duced to be­ing clever. It wasn’t Car­mona’s fault, and nor was his next go: the South Amer­i­can Inti, in a space on O’Con­nell St, which served clever ver­sions of South Amer­i­can clas­sics but still felt gutsy and real. Lamentably, it lasted only a few months — an­other lost restau­rant, an­other vi­sion­ary place Auck­land should have held onto.

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