FIRST LOOK

A stylish neigh­bour­hood spot for Grey Lynn lo­cals.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents - TEXT — JEAN TENG

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.

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