A stylish neighbourhood spot for Grey Lynn locals.
Metro checks out Lilian, in Grey Lynn.
Wedidn’t want any bread, but then we saw it. Puffed up, it looked like gigantic Indian puris with black blistering from the wood fire. A trail of olive oil had been drizzled onto the plate. “Hmm,” I mused, “let’s have some bread.”
At 6pm, our table at Lilian was sun dappled, rays casting the shadow of my wine glass against the white, weathered walls. The sun illuminated oysters, strands of stark-white stracciatella lacing between green and red heirloom tomatoes, and thin slices of raw trevally on geometric segments of citrus fruit on our table. For a few suspended seconds, we weren’t in Auckland.
That was the intention of owner Hugo Baird, who, with CTRL Space, designed the interior to resemble casual eateries in Europe, particularly in southern France, and to be a departure from the cold, minimalist interiors of late. The fit-out is awash with dusky and earthy tones, but isn’t dark. It’s romantic. Scallop-edged lamps, vases filled with dried flowers, and wooden floors have seen to that. Having people sitting at benched tables out on the pavement, sipping wine under the darkening sky, helps, too.
Lilian moved into the old Siostra at 472 Richmond Rd, Grey Lynn, and Baird’s other eatery, Honey Bones, is only a few doors down. Baird saw a need for something new in the neighbourhood, something trendy but accessible. Although the new opening has attracted a certain demographic of Auckland in droves — spot them also at new openings Bar Céleste and Clay — I spied a few families, their kids feasting on the crowd-pleasing woodfired pizzas.
Chef Otis Gardner Schapiro, a childhood friend of Baird’s, struggled to articulate the food he made. “Simple and bold, with strong flavours,” he said. Before the opening, Gardner Schapiro told a curious customer that it was “bar food”. Baird laughed incredulously, widening his eyes at him as if to say, “It’s a bit more than that, mate.” It’s not bar food, really, but definitely is simple and bold — well-executed, classic flavours built around fresh produce.
The food is, in a way, romantic, too. Heirloom tomatoes tumbled together on moss-green-edged plates made me feel light and happy — such simplicity. Soft curls of shaved pecorino intertwined with crispy shreds of chicken skin above straight lines of asparagus formed a dish of humble indulgence. Imperfectly round wood-fired pizzas came straight out of an oven imported from Italy. A favourite dish was the bavette steak, topped with a herby salsa verde, the meat soaking up the buttery oil. But my standout favourite was the bread, deflated down into comforting, salty goodness.
I liked the bar, marble on wood, gently curving around the corner, wide and generous in space. That section is loosely designated for those who want to just drop in for a drink and maybe some nibbles (oysters, bread and roasted peppers are good for that); Baird told me he wants Lilian to be that neighbourhood spot you can go to two or three times a week. And there’s a lot to drink, evident by the bottles arranged in neat rows behind the bar, with an army of wine glasses hanging upside down underneath.
You can get about 20 or so wines by the glass, some organic, some not, and more by the bottle. Baird curated the wine list with friend Nick Loosley, wanting to shift some focus to lesser-known varieties and vineyards while keeping wine conservatives happy. They seem to have largely stayed away from “natural” wine, except for a by-thebottle option of Cambridge Road Naturalist Pet Nat, which, at this point, could be considered Auckland’s wine of the summer — it’s everywhere.
We stayed a while, chatting over a panna cotta and a glass of wine, but soon felt guilty. The waitlist was already stacking up.
LEFT— The bar at Lilian.
ABOVE— Wood-fired bavette steak.